Wednesday, October 31, 2012

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

Art-House Dramas:

Summary: Cheyenne is a quirky retired rock star living in Dublin. His father dies, and he sets out on a journey back to America to find the man responsible for a humiliation suffered by his father during WWII. Filmmakers: Italian writer-director Paolo Sorrentino comes to the States for this film. His most accomplished work of his Italian career is probably The Consequences of Love. He is working with composers David Byrne (of the Talking Heads) and Will Oldham, cinematographer Luca Bigazzi (a frequent collaborator) and production designer Stefania Cella. Cast: The film stars Sean Penn with Frances McDormand, Judd Hirsch, Kerry Condon, Harry Dean Stanton, David Byrne, and Shea Whigham in support. Expectations: This Must Be the Place looks like a good character piece, with what will likely be strong work from Penn. It was well received at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. Usually, this kind of performance might garner some awards buzz, but I think this has a low shot at an Oscar nomination though it could earn Penn an Independent Spirit Award nod. This is worth renting for fans of Penn and quirky character pieces. Trailer: Here.

Hitchcock (Sacha Gervais) – Biography Drama – Nov 23
Summary: A dramatization of the ‘behind the scenes’ making of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. Filmmakers: Director Sacha Gervais directs his first feature film with Hitchcock, but his second overall. His first was the wonderful documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil. He is working with a brilliant group, including composer Danny Elfman (Dick Tracy), cinematographer Jeff Cronenweth (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and production designer Judy Becker (Shame). Cast: The cast is not too shabby either, with Anthony Hopkins starring, Helen Mirren co-starring and Scarlett Johansson, Jessica Biel, Michael Stuhlbarg (who is fantastic in A Serious Man and Boardwalk Empire), James D’Arcy, Ralph Macchio (yup, that Ralph Macchio), Danny Huston, and Toni Collette all in support. Expectations: Hitchcock has awards potential all over it – from the excellent people behind the camera to the talented actors in front of it, not to mention Hollywood’s love of film-nostalgia (2011 was the year of film-nostalgia, how does The Artist win Best Picture). I am a bit weary of the film, though, as Hitchcock is my favorite director. Film’s like to jazz up the lives of their subjects, often injecting drama that was never really there. I absolutely love Peter Sellers. He is easily my favorite comedic actor (if not actor period) of all-time. That said, I did not like The Life and Death of Peter Sellers, which (accurate or not) took shots at the man (and Geoffrey Rush, who is a great actor, just could not play Sellers’s characters). So, I am not too anxious to see my favorite director taken to task as well (accurate or not), as filmgoers who know no better will think of him that way going forward, instead of remembering his masterful work. Hollywood is also a town where everything seemingly comes in twos, and films about Hitchcock in 2012 are no different – see HBO’s The Girl. This is, however, worth checking out for fans of strong performances and films that may factor into awards season. Trailer: Here.

Rust and Bone (Jacques Audiard) – Drama – Nov 23
Summary: Ali’s life undergoes changes when he is put in charge of his young son. He decides to leave Belgium and move in with his sister and her husband in Antibes so, along with his son, they can live as one big family. Meanwhile, he falls for Stephanie, a killer whale trainer who suffers a horrible accident. Filmmakers: Writer-director-producer Jacques Audiard might be France’s best filmmaker working right now. His last two film were both brilliant (The Beat That My Heart Skipped and A Prophet). He is working again with composer Alexandre Desplat, cinematographer Stephane Fontaine and production designer Michel Barthelemy, all of whom are excellent in their fields. Cast: The film stars Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard (who is one of my favorite French actresses). Expectations: If Audiard’s last two films are any indication, Rust and Bone should be a wonderful film, both visually stunning and dramatically potent. It was nominated for the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival. For fans of emotionally intense dramas, this is a must-see (as if might be one of the best films of 2012). Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

The Details (Jacob Aaron Estes) – Comedy – Nov 2
Summary: Jeff and Nealy live a normal life. But, when a family of raccoons digs up their backyard discovering worms living underneath the sod, a chain reaction of domestic tension, infidelity and murder is set into play. Filmmakers: Writer-director Jacob Aaron Estes was thought to be an indie filmmakers with excellent potential after he released his first feature Mean Creek (which is fantastic), but that was way back in 2004. Eight years later, his second feature is finally coming to cinemas. He is working again with composer tomandandy and cinematographer Sharone Meir, while production designer Toby Corbett (Running Scared) is new to the team. Cast: The film stars Tobey Maguire, and also features Elizabeth Banks, Kerry Washington, Ray Liotta, Laura Linney, Dennis Haysbert, and Sam Trammell. Expectations:  The Details premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival and then disappeared until The Weinstein Company released its trailer and set its theatrical release date. The film played to mixed reviews at Sundance, and it is not clear if that cut will be the same as the one theatergoers will see in November. That said, Jacob Aaron Estes is still the talented writer-director who made Mean Creek, and thus his new film The Details deserves the benefit of the doubt and is certainly worth renting (or at the very least checking out the professional reviews before renting or seeing). From the trailer, it looks to be a funny black comedy with a strong cast. Trailer: Here.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cloud Atlas (2012) – Review

Review: Cloud Atlas is an extraordinarily ambitious piece, woven together with absolute brilliance. The film features six stories about human relationships throughout the history of man, dealing with love, friendship, freedom, and bravery among other things – each connected in some way to the last.

Cloud Atlas is structured as a series of six shorts that are all intercut to tell a story about human resilience (the triumph of will and pursuit of truth and love). In each short there seems to be a love story, a friendship and a journey that leads to the flourishing of freedom (freedom from bondage, freedom to love, freedom from persecution, freedom from wrongful imprisonment, freedom from tyranny, freedom to find truth, freedom from past mistakes, and just plain freedom – the right to be free). Each short is also linked by the work of a character in an earlier story (a book, political teachings, letters, and journal). The lead character in each future reads about or sees the story of the character in the short before theirs, which seems to have an impact on them. There is also a piece of music that seems to exist outside of time that links all the stories (much like the comet birthmark), seeming to indicate these characters are also connected on a spiritual level as well (like destiny continually bringing them together across time inhabiting different bodies – which makes sense out of having the same group of actors play different roles in each time period).

While the stories are all fluid, and the overall piece has a sound structure, the high level concepts in the film, like destiny and ‘everything is connected’, feel a bit messier. The comet birthmark for one – does this suggest that the spirit or soul of the person is transferred across time, reincarnated over and over and drawn again and again to other versions of the people they loved and truly befriended in past lifetimes? There are so many references in the film; it would take multiple viewings to catch them all. Is there a puzzle that can be solved or mystery unraveled by acquiring and linking all these connections? Or, are all the connections just an artifice, merely present as a McGuffin – or a through line for the narratives? It certainly does encourage further thought, which can be taken as a good thing.

Cinematically, the film is a massive undertaking (the biggest German production of all-time), with the six stories split between two crews. Director Tom Tykwer wrote and directed Letters from Zedelghem, Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery and The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish, while the Wachowskis (Andy and Lana) wrote and directed The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing, An Orison of Sonmi-451 and Sloosha’s Crossin’ an Ev’rythin’ After. And yet, the most impressive aspect of the film is how well it flows and how well all the elements of the different stories go together, both building on each other and existing as separate narratives. From and writing and editing standpoint, it is one of the most astonishing films in recent memory.

Tykwer and the Wachowskis get the audience to care about the characters in every story. There is not one story or set of characters that dominate the audiences’ attention (which is vital to the film’s success – especially since it is 172 minutes long – one short cannot take persistence leaving the others to be a lull in the overall narrative, and conversely one cannot be particularly less engaging as this would disjoint the flow as well). The film, along with great characters, is filled with gripping tension, exciting action and compelling drama, but also infused with enough comedy and fun moments to give the audience a break and let them breath. All the stories are cut so that their own three-act structures fall around the same time in the film, giving the whole piece an overall momentum and tone that is in sync.

However, the film has some issues as well. Chiefly, its thematic messages (everything is connected and freedom) are a bit heavy handed. The viewer is practically beaten over the head, repeatedly, with the themes. Some of the connections are (somewhat) subtle (like Timothy Cavendish reading Javier Gomez’s book on the train or Vyvyan Ayrs dreaming about the eatery where Sonmi-451 works), but most are essentially grandstanded and shoved in the viewer’s face constantly (seemingly assuming that there is no other way that the viewer could make the connections – like the comet birthmark being explicitly focused on). This does detract from the film quite a bit, taking away from the wonder of the story. Force-feeding the film’s ideology blatantly to your audience is not really the best way to go about it.

Also, the film goes to great lengths to present clearly established good guys and bad guys. There are almost no complex characters struggling with both dark and light elements (Zachry being maybe the only one who the audience truly questions, with Timothy possibly being a bit dubious at the beginning). Overall, the characters are well-drawn and dramatically interesting (making for good protagonists and antagonists), but when it comes to their morals they are all fairly cookie cutter. The audience never doubts the intensions of any characters, nor are they ever skeptical about a character. The character roles are just too cut and dry (this one is unilaterally good and this one bad).

Another issue arises as a result of the actors playing multiple roles across the six stories. The make-up is sometimes unintentionally comical or at least noticeably odd looking. This takes the audience out of the moment (which is something, as a filmmaker, that you never want). But really, this is more of a minor issue that does not take away from the film that much as a whole.

Issues aside, Cloud Atlas is a magnificent, entertaining and engaging film, and one that is essential in today’s film landscape (where blockbusters are mostly sequels and generic broad studio fair). This is a film that dares to be challenging and adventurous. I wish there were more blockbusters like it.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Both Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis have made great films in the past (Run Lola Run and The Matrix respectively), but those films were over a decade ago with unsatisfying work since. Cloud Atlas sees their collective return to prominence as talented and important filmmakers (and is my favorite of their films to date). Suddenly, I am looking forward to their next films (the Wachowskis are in preproduction on Jupiter Ascending).

The work of the crew on the film is wonderful. The score composed by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek and Tykwer has a beauty to it. Their Cloud Atlas Sextet feels both timeless and musically important, functioning as the emotional nexus of the film. Their score has dramatic weight and magnitude to it as well, accompanying the scale and scope of the film presenting a wondrous tone (I like this piece). Visually the film is splendid – capturing the feel, delicacy and awe of each story. Cinematographer Frank Griebe and production designer Uli Hanisch worked with Tykwer and cinematographer John Toll and production designer Hugh Bateup worked with the Wachowskis. Even with two separate filming crews, there is a shared aesthetic to the film (it is actually tough to tell which crew shot which section) – one that features a very clean and glossy look, but with a hint of grit and grim behind the scenes. The photography is stunning, allowing the colors of the film to pop; while the design of most of the sets seems to be a mixture of a nice façade that when looked upon closer shows levels of decrepitude. There seems to be a constant clashing of clean and glossy elements with dirty and worn out ones (both visually and narratively).

The company of actors must have had a lot of fun on the film, many getting to play six characters. The performances are mostly good, but there are also a few instances in which it is clear that certain actors are better suited to particular roles than others. Tom Hanks, James D’Arcy, David Gyasi, and Hugo Weaving are all very good, but Jim Broadbent, Doona Bae and Ben Whishaw steal different moments of the film (and Halle Berry is not terrible, which is really all you can ask for). Hugh Grant is also his charming self (and has a fantastic, completely different appearance).

Summary & score: Cloud Atlas warrants multiple viewings (and at least one of those should be in the cinema to take full advantage of its grand and radiant scale and scope). The question is – will it get better with each viewing or grow tiresome (I really do not know), its initial splendor revealed to be a dilapidated mess (much like the Neo-Seoul eatery once the customers have gone home)? But, after one viewing, it is remarkable. 9/10 

Monday, October 29, 2012

Movie of the Week – An American Werewolf in London

This week’s movie is An American Werewolf in London (1981).

The horror comedy is about David and Jack, two Americans on vacation in England who come across a small town with a terrible curse. The film is written and directed by the era’s greatest comedy director John Landis (responsible for: The Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House, The Blues Brothers, Trading Places, Twilight Zone: The Movie – prologue and segment one, Thriller music video, Spies Like Us, ¡Three Amigos!, and Coming to America). Landis worked with composer Elmer Bernstein (whose score is great), cinematographer Robert Paynter and production designer Leslie Dilley. Legend Rick Baker did the make-up and creature special effects (for which he won an Oscar). David Naughton stars with Griffin Dunne and Jenny Agutter in support (and Rik Mayall from The Young Ones has a cameo). The film is insane and highly entertaining as it seems to just perpetually get more and more out of control and silly (in a good way). It is one of the great cult classics from the 1980s and well worth watching for fans of horror and horror-comedies. Check out the trailer.

Available on Blu-ray and DVD

Friday, October 26, 2012

Ryan Leslie – Les Is More (2012) – Review

Review: Ryan Leslie is back with his third album Les Is More (his first to be released independently), following up his first two solid 2009 releases (Ryan Leslie and Transition). After a number of delays, the album is finally out with many of the songs having video accompaniment (which can be seen at

Les Is More is much more a rap album for Leslie than his typical R&B/pop singing on his first two. It still has Leslie crooning on a number of tracks, but each song features rap verses as well. And, he is not a bad MC – in fact, he is good. There are no guest on the album either, letting him shine (with frequent collaborator Fabolous showing up on a bonus track Beautiful Life Remix). Lyrically, the album mostly deals with Leslie’s lavish life and beautiful women, and thus feels a bit generic in today’s hip hop landscape of boasting.

Musically, however, Leslie’s work continues to stand out, and is really the reason to seek out and listen to his work. He not only produces every song on the album, but he plays every instrument too. It also has a lot of musical range, with songs that feel fun to songs that feel intimate. His beats are generally great, and Les Is More is no different.

While I probably still like his self-titled album the best, Les Is More is another good release from Leslie, and I look forward to his future work. 3/5

Essential Tracks:

1)      5 Minute Freshen Up
2)      Beautiful Life
3)      Joan of Arc

Available on CD and Digital Download

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Wintersun – Time I (2012) – Review

Review: The Finnish melodic death metal/folk metal band Wintersun burst onto the scene with their magnificent self-titled album in 2004 (it being one of my five favorite metal albums of all-time, the other four are: Dawn’s Slaughtersun [Crown of The Triarchy], Slayer’s South of Heaven, Opeth’s Morningrise, and At the Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul or Behind The Scenery’s …of honesty forbidden – it is too hard to choose). Fans of folk metal band Ensiferum knew Wintersun’s leader and songwriter Jari Maenpaa from his great work on the band’s first two (and best) albums before he left to start Wintersun. Maenpaa is the master of epic symphonic metal orchestrations (and a very good guitar player) and Wintersun’s debut shot to the top of many fans’ lists as a classic. Thus, his fans wanted more.

Wintersun announced they were beginning work on their second album in 2006, but due to numerous delays (including Maenpaa’s computer not being able to handle the amount of tracks he had on each song) the album, entitled Time (ironically now), kept being pushed back. And so here we are eight years later, finally there is new music from Wintersun.

Time I represents the first half of the full album (split in two because it was too big to fit on one CD), with Time II due out sometime in 2013 (we hope). Being only the first half, it does feel a little incomplete (as it should) and it is hard to really fully appreciate it without hearing how it ends. Plus, after eight years, Time I basically offers us three new songs (there are five tracks, but one is an intro and one is an interlude) – three fantastic songs, but only three songs nonetheless.

The production and musicianship is top-notch, as expected. Each song is meticulously and intricately structured and arranged. At first, I was a bit overwhelmed (especially on Sons of Winter and Stars), but as I continue to listen to the album the songs seem to become more impressive and everything falls into place. I like it more and more each time.

Time I is very different from Wintersun’s first album, as there are not any fast guitar driven songs (like Winter Madness), rather each song is a building epic full of beauty, power and emotion (and on the slower side – like Sadness and Hate). There is a sense that Maenpaa set out to make his epic genre masterpiece with this album. While it is a bit overwhelming at first and seemingly overproduced, once it is given time to all sink in, it is quite engaging musically and melodically beautiful.

Rating this album is very difficult, as again it feels incomplete. Musically, it is phenomenal and is so much more than just a metal genre album (though the harsh vocals used at times will probably scare away any casual listeners, not that there will be any). Yet, I really need to hear Time II before is proclaim it the masterpiece that it very well could be. Thus, I am tentatively giving it 4/5 until I hear the rest.

Essential Tracks:

2)      Time

Available on CD and Digital Download

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Kendick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d. city (2012) – Review

Review: Compton MC Kendrick Lamar seems to be hip hop’s latest contender for the crown of best rapper alive, and with Kendrick it does not feel like such a stretch (in fact, he probably is). Technically, he is flawless. Lyrically, he is thoughtful and a wonderful storyteller. Artistically, he weaves hip hop’s present and past together magnificently. His aesthetic is one of the best in the genre. With his major label debut, good kid, m.A.A.d city, Kendrick has made 2012’s best hip hop album so far.

The anticipation for good kid, m.A.A.d city has been immense, both from fans that loved Section.80 (his first studio album, and one of the best of 2011) and those intrigued by his signing with Dr. Dre and his string of great singles released in 2012 (The Recipe, Swimming Pools [Drank] and Compton). A song potentially slated to be on the album leaked in early 2012 called Cartoons & Cereal setting the mood for what good kid, m.A.A.d city would be like – the song is brilliant, as is the finished album.

good kid, m.A.A.d city plays as an introspective story following Kendrick’s journey through adolescence growing up in Compton (with the dangers, influences and culture the city encompasses), detailing the choices he made. It is an enthralling story that draws the listener in. Kendrick is not just boasting or rapping about wealth and the things that come with it, he is telling his fans about something real, something important, something we can care about and not just frivolous. And yet, he is still able to touch on many of the typical genre topics. He talks about how he survived the streets, the allure and pitfalls of chasing women, making money (though, there seems to be a negative connotation to what the cost of ‘making it’ is). In many ways the album is a love letter to Compton and warning to the youth still struggling to get through the day in the city (maybe best stated in Sing About Me, I’m Dying of Thirst).

Musically, the album is like nothing else in hip hop. It references the West Coast sound that Kendrick grew up on (including appearances by MC Eiht and Dr. Dre), while also having the raw energy and anger of one of his main influences Tupac. But, Kendrick combines this with a very modern sound. He is very cognizant of where the genre has been and where it is going, and his place in it. His TDE/Black Hippy crew makes their mark on the album too with great production from Terrace Martin, Sounwave, and THC and a bitter (but poignant) verse from Jay Rock. Kendrick also has strong production from notable producers Pharrell, Just Blaze, T-Minus and Hit-Boy, and a guest verse from Drake.

Expectations for good kid, m.A.A.d were incredibly high, and Kendrick has delivered a classic album. It is a must for fans of hip hop. 5/5

Essential Tracks:

1)      Swimming Pools (Drank) Extended Version – Produced by T-Minus
2)      m.A.A.d city – Produced by Sounwave and THC, featuring MC Eiht
3)      Backseat Freestyle – Produced Hit-Boy

Available on CD and Digital Download

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Stars to Watch: Part 10 – Movies Spotlight – October 2012

What She’s Been In:

Rebel Wilson, 26, studied at the Australian Theatre for Young People. In 2003, she decided to go to New York to train at The Second City after winning an ATYP International scholarship. She started her career as a stand-up comedian, but got her first real recognition after appearing in the stage musical The Westie Monologues in Australia (which she also wrote and produced). She took a few roles in Australia finding success on TV, starring in a number of comedies (Pizza, The Wedge and Bogan Pride), before returning to the States taking small roles in Ghost Rider and season one of Workaholics. She has started to establish herself in Hollywood after her breakthrough role (see below), co-starring in the comedy Bachelorette, being funny in a small supporting role in What to Expect When You’re Expecting and having a voice-role in Ice Age: Continental Drift (all which came out in 2012).


Wilson’s breakthrough came with a supporting role in 2011’s biggest comedy – Bridesmaids. She is hilarious playing Kristen Wiig’s character Annie’s roommate Brynn. In a film full of very funny people, Wilson was able to stand out, which accounts for her sudden rise in Hollywood bookings.

October Film:

This month Wilson co-stars in Pitch Perfect, a musical comedy about an all-girls acapella group The Bellas who take on their campus all-male rivals. The film has a fantastic cast also starring Anna Kendrick (one of the brightest rising stars), Brittany Snow, Anna Camp, and Alexis Knapp. The film is perfect for Wilson, as it allows her to show off both her singing and comedy chops. It is definitely one of the best surprises of 2012. It is a lot of run. Trailer: Here.


Wilson has a number of projects upcoming. First she has two indie films – Small Apartments and Struck by Lightning. The first, directed by Jonas Akerlund, is about a man surrounded by strange events and odd neighbors. It also features Juno Temple (another great star to watch) and Dolph Lundgren. The second, directed by Brian Dannelly, is about a young man who is struck and killed by lightning. Now dead, he recounts how he blackmailed his classmates into writing for his magazine. It stars and was written by Chris Colfer. Both have received positive buzz on the festival circuit. In 2013 she is set to have a supporting role in Michael Bay’s latest blockbuster action comedy: Pain & Gain, starring Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson. It is about a pair of bodybuilders who get caught up in a kidnapping scheme and extortion ring that gets terribly out of hand. Finally, Wilson has set up a deal with ABC to create a pilot for a new comedy called Super Fun Night (which she will write and star in).

Career Highlights:

1)      Bridesmaids (2011) – supporting (Blu-ray, DVD)
*Editor’s picks

What He’s Been In:

Scoot McNairy started his career as a character actor, often playing rebellious and colorful characters. These characters include small parts in Wonderland, Art School Confidential, and Bobby. He has also shown up in a number of TV series for single episode arcs, notably great episodes of Six Feet Under and How I Met Your Mother. He has been in three episodes of Bones.


McNairy’s breakthrough came with the brilliant indie sci-fi (Godzilla-like) thriller Monsters. Directed by Gareth Edwards (who, funny enough, is remaking Godzilla), it is about a cynical journalist (McNairy) and a shaken America tourist who try to make their way through an infected zone to the safety of the US border after aliens breakthrough their detention zone and begin to attack the Mexican city they are both stuck in. It co-stars Whitney Able.

October Film:

This month, McNairy has a supporting role in the Oscar favorite Argo, a drama about six US civilians who escaped the embassy in Tehran after it is taken over by revolutionaries (but who are now trapped in the Canadian Ambassador’s house) and the CIA-Canadian operation to extract them. The film is directed by Ben Affleck and stars Affleck, Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, and Alan Arkin. McNairy plays one of the six fugitives (and is very good in the film). Trailer: Here.


McNairy has the potential to be the breakout actor of 2012. In addition to a good supporting role in Argo, he also co-stars in Killing ThemSoftly and has a supporting role in Promised Land. The first is a crime drama written and directed by Andrew Dominik (the brilliant filmmaker who made The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) about Jackie Cogan a professional enforced who is sent to investigate a heist of mob-protected poker game. McNairy plays one of the stick-up men. It also features Brad Pitt, Ray Liotta, Richard Jenkins, James Gandolfini, and Ben Mendelson. The second sees Matt Damon reuniting with director Gus Van Sant in a film about a salesman for a natural gas company who comes to a crisis of faith after arriving in a small town where he has been sent to acquire farms to be drilled for their resources. It also features John Kransinski (who co-wrote the film with Damon), Frances McDormand, Rosemarie DeWitt, and Hal Holbrook. McNairy plays one of the small town’s farm owners. 2013 is also a busy year for McNairy with roles in three films set for release. First, Touchy Feely directed by Lynn Shelton and co-starring Ellen Page and Rosemarie DeWitt. Next (what could be 2013’s best film), Twelve Years a Slave about a man living in New York in the mid-1800s who is kidnapped and sold into slavery in the Deep South. Written and directed by (the brilliant) Steve McQueen, it stars Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano, Paul Giamatti, Garret Dillahunt, Michael Kenneth Williams, Taran Killam, Quvenzhane Wallis, and Chiwetel Ejiofor (not sure there will be a better cast in 2013). Finally, Non-Stop about an air marshal who must save an international flight from threating passengers. Director Jaume Collet-Serra reunites with Liam Neeson, while Michelle Dockery, Julianne Moore, and Corey Stoll co-star.

Career Highlights:

1)      Monsters (2010) – lead (Blu-ray, DVD, Streaming)
*Editor’s picks

What She’s Been In:

Kaya Scodelario, 20, appeared very briefly in the great sci-fi film Moon and has a small role in Clash of the Titans (her only Hollywood film to date). She also has roles in a few British projects, including the action sci-fi film Shank, the new TV series True Love, the thriller Twenty8k, and the romance drama Now Is Good. But really, her best and most notably work comes in her breakthrough project (see below)


Scodelario’s breakthrough came when she was cast in a reoccurring supporting role in the British teen TV drama Skins’s, created by Bryan Elsley and Jamie Brittain, first class (the show follows new characters every two seasons). She plays one of the series’ leads Tony’s (played by Nicholas Hoult) sister Effy. She is one of the few characters to be featured in more than two seasons, as she returned to be one of the leads in the second class (seasons 3-4). She is excellent in the series, and overall it is one of the best teen dramas on TV (shaming MTV’s remake).

October Film:

This month Scodelario stars in Andrea Arnold’s minimalist adaptation of Wuthering Heights, a classic gothic novel by Emily Bronte about a poor boy, Heathcliff, who is taken in by the Earnshaw family where he develops an intense relationship with his new young foster sister. She plays the older version of Catherine Earnshaw opposite newcomer James Howson as Heathcliff (their younger counterparts are played by Shannon Beer and Solomon Glave, also both newcomers). The film is eagerly anticipated because Arnold’s last film was the excellent drama Fish Tank and this adaptation of Wuthering Heights, while still in period, feels very raw, moody and gritty – fresh (which is amazing for something that has been adapted hundreds of times). Trailer: Here.


In 2013 Scodelario has two project expected to see release. First she has the lead role in the indie film Emanuel and the Truth about Fishes about a troubled young girl who becomes obsessed with her new neighbor, as she looks very much like the girl’s dead mother. It co-stars Jessica Biel, Jimmi Simpson, Alfred Molina, and Frances O’Conner, and is directed by Francesca Gregorini (whose first film was the underrated drama Tanner Hall). Next, she stars opposite Tom Hughes (who is good in Cemetery Junction) in the British romance drama Stay with Me directed by Tim Fywell. It is about two young people running away from their lives who engaging a whirlwind romance with heartbreaking results.

Career Highlights:

1)      Skins: Series 1 (2007)* – supporting (DVD)
2)      Skins: Series 2 (2008)* – supporting (DVD)
3)      Skins: Series 3 (2009)* – lead (DVD)
4)      Skins: Series 4 (2010)* – lead (DVD)
*Editor’s picks

Monday, October 22, 2012

Movie of the Week – Day for Night

This week’s movie is Day for Night (1973).

The drama/comedy is about a director struggling to finish his film in the face of a plethora of crises among the cast and crew. French New Wave director François Truffaut directs (it is my personal favorite of his films), working with composer Georges Delerue, cinematographer Pierre-William Glenn and production designer Damien Lanfranchi. Truffaut also stars in the film with support from Nathalie Baye, Jean-Pierre Leaud (Truffaut’s star in The 400 Blows), Valentina Cortese, and Jacqueline Bisset. The film is maybe the best narrative exploring the exploits of making a film (influencing many films and filmmakers – like Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou; it is also the direct influence on Anderson’s American Express commercial). Truffaut’s camera is fantastic in the film, as it flows through the set, seemingly always in the perfect position. Day for Night is also Truffaut’s funniest film, as the director manages the egos of actors and complications arising from the production (like getting a cat to drink from a saucer). I highly recommend the film for fans of cinema (both the art of cinema and the process of filmmaking), as it is a must-see for aspiring filmmakers and critics. Check out the trailer.

Available on DVD and Streaming

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Ellie Goulding – Halcyon (2012) – Review

Review: Ellie Goulding’s first album Lights took a while to catch on in the States (as she found success much quicker in her native United Kingdom), with her biggest hit (also titled) Lights climbing the billboard Hot 100 for forty-two weeks, reaching number two. Her sophomore album Halcyon again shows off Goulding’s wonderfully unique voice and electronic pop sensibilities. Goulding started 2012 off releasing her cover of The Weeknd’s High for This (which is fantastic) and followed it up with her cover of Active Child’s Hanging On (which is on the album), setting the stage for Halcyon’s atmospheric dream pop sound and lyrics dealing with love and loss – escaping the dark into the light.

The album is littered with great tracks (which made it difficult for me to pick three for my ‘essential tracks’), showcasing Goulding’s voice – both her singing ability and the use of her voice as an instrument contributing to the music or beat of a song (for example: Explosions and I Know You Care). She has one of the most interesting and different voices in pop music. It has a raw quality to it that seems to add emotion and power to her songs, making them all the more compelling.

Her single Lights and its subsequent remixes have placed her among the most popular dance pop artists right now, but instead of trying to capitalize on that market she has gone another way with her sound. The album is still very much electronically influenced and infused. But it is not a dance album, though there are a few songs that are club ready (and certainly remix ready). It is much more atmospheric, with almost an ethereal feel to many of the tracks. Goulding has great producing chemistry with Jim Elliot who co-produced most of the songs with her. Billboard, Starsmith, Calvin Harris, John Fortis, Justin Parker, and MONSTA also worked on the album.

Unlike many pop artists (especially younger popular singers), Goulding writes her songs. Halcyon is a very personal album. It is not really a commercial pop album in as much as the songs are not particularly catchy in terms of having killer hooks (that fans can sing along with and get stuck in the heads of casual listeners). Again, the album is more a complete work creating a feeling for the listener, and not a collection of singles.

Halcyon is a better album than Lights (I think), with Goulding growing and blossoming as an artist. It is well worth checking out for fans of dream pop/synthpop. 4/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      Anything Could Happen – Produced by Ellie Goulding and Jim Elliot
2)      Only You – Produced by Ellie Goulding and Jim Elliot
3)      Hanging On – Produced by Billboard, featuring Tinie Tempah

Available on CD and Digital Download

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Argo (2012) – Review

Review: Argo is a gripping thriller that also plays as sort a nostalgic comedy. The film is about the 1979 Tehran hostage crisis. When the U.S. Embassy is stormed by Iranian revolutionaries, six civilians escape out the back and hide in the Canadian Ambassador’s house. CIA agent Tony Mendez, who specializes in extracting people, puts together a plan to get them out of Iran. His plan involves a fake Hollywood sci-fi film called Argo.

Director Ben Affleck does a lot with the material in this film. First, it is based on a true story, which seems to automatically make it more compelling, and yet a lot of the narrative’s tension comes from the specifics. Getting the six Americans out is thrilling enough, but this is a movie after all and things need to be enhanced for dramatic effect – how much is enhancement and how much is fact is unknown to me, but I take the specific details that heighten the tension to be enhancement. Details like: the mission being called off only for Mendez to go ahead anyway leading to the CIA home office having to scramble to get everything in place. Or, the movie producers being delayed by a production assistant and nearly missing the call that saved the lives of the Americans. All these things make the tension almost unbearable, yet feel kind of phony at the same time. That said, Affleck’s use of tension in the third act is fantastic (phony or not). The dramatic tension is done so well that it is almost too effective and nerve-racking. Even when the Americans are home free (I would say spoilers, but this is a true story, so we all know how it turns out already), the audience is still not sure if everything is going to be okay through the rest of the film because they are still so wound-up. Affleck’s has done seemingly too good a job, as the tension builds and builds throughout most of the second half of the film. The narrative device signaling that the suspense is over and the audience can relax seems to not have its intended effect, as the audience is somewhat on edge through the credits (and on the way back to their cars).

The tone of the film varies a bit, which also plays into the tension being almost too intense. Affleck marries two very different tonal aspects of the narrative: one being the gripping thriller of the Americans hiding and then being rescued, and the other being Mendez’s trip to Hollywood to build the cover for his mission. This section of the film plays like a comedy. The tone is very light (for the most part, though there is still an edge simmering underneath as the situation in Tehran is never out of mind), with the narrative playing almost like a nostalgic trip back to Hollywood in the late 1970s, early 1980s. There are lots of jokes (both verbal and visual). There are kooky characters. The tone in these scenes certainly does not mesh particularly well with the rest of the film (right?). Except, it sort of does mesh well, because Affleck is commenting on the absurdity of the plan to get these people out – pretending to be a film crew scouting a location in Iran for a sci-fi adventure – and really the whole situation. There is still a subconscious disconnect for the viewer however, as the tone changes from serious drama to comedy to nail-biting thriller which throws off the narrative structure a bit, but Affleck is able to guide the viewer through and keep them engaged with his compelling storytelling. He weaves all the different elements of the story together very well despite the tonal issue.

The tonal shifts and the overwhelming tension, seemingly built on Hollywoodized dramatic enhancements to the narrative, still leave the film feeling like it does not quite work as well as it seems to. Yes, it is very captivating, and Affleck does a wonderful job with the characters economically giving them each enough for the audience to be invested in them (which only again adds to the effect of the tension – as the audience cares about what happens to these people), but there is something missing. It might be that Mendez is not a strong enough character. Thus, the audience is merely watching the narrative play out (while having a stake in the Americans plight, trapped in Tehran) rather than being pulled in by the film’s protagonist. Affleck does develop the character, but he is very dry and sort of dull (for the most part). It might be that the ending is not effective enough to break the tension and allow the audience to feel relief (and I think this is one of the main issues with the film along with the aggrandized dramatic tension). It might be the narrative structure feeling disjointed due to the varying tone, which also causes the pacing to feel a bit slow at times. It might be all these things.

However, overall Argo is a very good thriller, as it completely commands the audience’s attention (especially in the third act), and is also appealing for its nostalgic qualities, particularly for those familiar with filmmaking (and the Hollywood system), overcoming its narrative and structural issues.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Ben Affleck is now three movies in as a director (his other two being Gone Baby Gone and The Town). And, he is three for three in terms of making good films. Argo will likely be his most critically acclaimed as it is already earmarked for Oscar contention (but personally, The Town is my favorite). The film works because of its poignant dramatic and emotional correlation to the political climate in today’s world (specifically in the region – and specifically for Western audiences who can empathize with the characters). Justified or not, there is a palpable fear or tension in the air regarding the future of the Middle East (for both its people and the World).

Alexandre Desplat’s score is great, mixing flavors of the region with dramatic touchstones that emphasize the emotions of the narrative (here is a playlist). The film also has a great period soundtrack (Dream On is very effective in the trailer). Rodrigo Prieto’s cinematography is excellent, really capturing the period look with his lighting. However, Sharon Seymour’s production design stands out the most. The sets, costumes and overall look are brilliant, as much of the film has been matched to documentary footage taken at the time of the crisis. The exceptional production quality does elevate the overall feeling of the film rooting it in realism, and Affleck does a great job with this as well as director.

The cast, which includes a ton of small roles and bit parts, is very good – Richard Kind and Kyle Chandler standout in these bit parts. Kerry Bishe, Rory Cochrane, Scoot McNairy, and Victor Garber are strong in small supporting roles, having to play a lot of strain on their characters. John Goodman and Alan Arkin are great as they bring comedy to the film, while still preserving the film’s dramatic power. Bryan Cranston plays sort of a generic character, but brings some humanity to him nonetheless. Ben Affleck has a touch role to play, as most of the characters around him get all the good stuff. He is mostly an observer, with brief dramatic moments. And yet, he still is able to serve as a good (though the character is not great) connection to the story for the audience.

Summary & score: Argo has a few nagging issues, but overall it is an entirely absorbing tale. 8/10