Thursday, February 28, 2013

At the Movies – March 2013 – Part 3: Most Anticipated Films

Must-See of the Month:

The Place Beyond the Pines (Derek Cianfrance) – Crime Drama – Mar 29
Plot Summary: Luke and Avery are on two different paths – but paths set on a collision course. Luke is a motorcycle stunt rider who robs banks to provide for his girlfriend and their child, while Avery is a rookie cop struggling to find his place in a department ruled by corruption. Filmmakers: Writer-director Derek Cianfrance is back with his third feature. His last was Blue Valentine, the acclaimed tragic romance narrative. He is working with excellent people including composer Mike Patton (the noise artist), cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (who shoots all of Steve McQueen’s films), and production designer Inbal Weinberg (The Perks of Being a Wallflower). Cast: The cast is very strong as well. Bradley Cooper and Ryan Gosling star, with Rose Byrne, Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, Dane DeHaan, Bruce Greenwood, Ben Mendelsohn, and Mahershala Ali in support. Expectations: The Place Beyond the Pines is this month’s must-see because it looks like a masterful drama, ripe with melodrama and despair. It played to excellent reviews during its advanced screenings and many critics have it on their short lists for most anticipated films of 2013. Gosling and Cooper are both coming off fantastic performances (Drive and Silver Linings Playbook respectively) and both are purported to be in top form in this film. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Worth Checking Out:

Stoker (Chan-wook Park) – Mystery Thriller – Mar 1
Plot Summary: India Stoker is in a somber and solitary place after her father and best friend Richard dies in a tragic accident. However, the sudden arrival of an uncle she never knew about (Charlie) gives her hope that the void she feels in her life might be filled. Yet, she suspects something is off about Charlie, but instead of being fearful of him she become more infatuated with him. Filmmakers: Stoker marks the American debut for Korean auteur Chan-wook Park, who is known for his fantastic and odd films: J.S.A.: Joint Security Area, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, and Thirst. He is working with frequent collaborator cinematographer Chung-hoon Chung, as well as producers Ridley and Tony Scott, composer Clint Mansell (Black Swan), and production designer Terese DePrez (also worked on Black Swan). Cast: Mia Wasikowska stars with Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode co-starring. Phyllis Somerville, Jacki Weaver, and Dermot Mulroney feature in support. Expectations: Stoker looks aesthetically magnificent and creepy. I half expect the uncle to be a vampire, killer, or some sort of monster. Mia Wasikowska is one of the great young talents with wonderful work in 2011’s Jane Eyre (probably the best film that completely fell under the radar that year). Stoker has played to great reviews during its advanced screening. It looks like a very strong mystery thriller. I am not sure with film I most want to see in March, this or The Place Beyond the Pines – but I am leaning towards this. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

At the Movies – March 2013 – Part 2: Hollywood Films

Romance and Rom-Coms:

The Host (Andrew Niccol) – Sci-Fi Romance Thriller – Mar 29
Plot Summary: Melanie Stryder is one of the last remaining humans after parasitic aliens have taken command of the Earth. She meets Jared Howe (another human) and they form an intense romantic bond. However, Melanie is captured by the aliens (sacrificing herself to save Jared). But, unlike other human hosts, she forms a bond with the parasite and rebels against the aliens to help the humans (as her love for Jared is too strong). Filmmakers: Writer-director Andrew Niccol has a strong background in sci-fi, having made the 1990s genre classic Gattaca. However, his last film (also within the sci-fi genre) was the very disappointing In Time. He is working with composer Antonio Pinto (who also scored Lord of War for Niccol), cinematographer Roberto Schaefer (who mostly works with Marc Forster), and production designer Andy Nicholson (this is his first film as production designer, but he has a strong background in art design – and is doing the production designer for this year’s Gravity). Cast: Saoirse Ronan stars, with Diane Kruger, Max Irons, Jake Abel, William Hurt, Bokeem Woodbine, Boyd Holbrook, and Frances Fisher in support. Expectations: The Host is yet other potential franchise starter targeted at young women to replace Twilight – and this one also happens to be based on a new novel series by Stephenie Meyers. Based on what I have seen, it looks much better than Twilight and Saoirse Ronan is a fantastic young actress (see: Atonement or Hanna). Plus, Diane Kruger should make for a good villain. While I will probably not see this in theatres, I do look forward to renting it. The romance aspects will likely be overly dramatic (as that is the trend for things aimed at young women), but Niccol will hopefully bring the right mix of action and sci-fi tonal elements to the project as well. Trailer: Here.

Serious Films:

Dead Man Down (Niels Arden Oplev) – Crime Thriller – Mar 8
Plot Summary: Beatrice is assaulted in her home by a local New York City crime boss. She blackmails Victor, a contract killer, to find and kill the man who assaulted her, so that she can have her revenge. The twist is, Victor works for the man he is hired to kill. Filmmakers: Swedish director Niels Arden Oplev makes his Hollywood debut with this film after the breakout success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. He is working again with composer Jacob Groth and production designer Niels Sejer. New to the team is cinematographer Paul Cameron (Total Recall). Cast: Also reuniting with Oplev is star Noomi Rapace. Colin Farrell also stars, while Terrence Howard, Dominic Cooper, Isabelle Huppert, and F. Murray Abraham (who is making a comeback with this, Homeland, Inside Llewyn Davis, and The Grand Budapest Hotel) feature in support. Expectations: Dead Man Down looks like a very entertaining crime thriller, which great action beats. Many filmgoers prefer Oplev’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo to David Fincher’s American remake (though, I am not one of them), and thus this should give many fans their first taste of Oplev’s talent with a bigger budget. Many filmmakers do not make the transition to Hollywood very well putting out disappoint work, but this does look potentially quite good. Trailer: Here.

Spring Breakers (Harmony Korine) – Crime Drama – Mar 22
Plot Summary: Four college girls want to have a great Spring Break, but they have no money. They decide to rob a restaurant, and are subsequently caught. A local drug dealer, arms dealer, and aspiring rapper Alien bails them out with big plans for them. Filmmakers: Writer-director Harmony Korine has made a few indie films (probably best known among them is Gummo), but this is his first film to see a wide theatrical release. He is working with maverick producer Megan Ellison (who funded many of the best films of 2012), composers Cliff Martinez (Drive) and Skrillex, cinematographer Benoit Debie (The Runaways), and production designer Elliot Hostetter (A Glimpse Inside the Mind of Charles Swan III). Cast: The film stars James Franco, Selena Gomez, Ashley Benson, Vansessa Hudgens, and Rachel Korine. Heather Morris and Gucci Mane feature in support. Expectations: Spring Breakers has played to mostly positive reviews and buzz during its 2012 festival tour. Personally I am of two minds about it. On one hand, it looks like an entertaining look at the dark side of back-alley contemporary culture, and I appreciate directors that have a unique style. But, on the other hand, it also looks like nothing more than an exercise in depravity, fueled by sort of a stereotyped idea of what contemporary party culture is and how young people tend to be drawn to it. It also looks highly stylized (in a music video-like way), which can often be to a film’s grave disadvantage in the hands of lesser filmmakers. I have a feeling that young people (which are probably its targeted audience) will generally like the film, while older filmgoers will not be as enthralled by the style and plot. Trailer: Here.


Jack the Giant Slayer (Bryan Singer) – Adventure Fantasy – Mar 1
Plot Summary: The live-action telling of the classic tale with a twist – a young farmhand named Jack with magic beans discovers a kingdom in the clouds inhabited by giants. Only, this version is juiced up with big action set pieces. Filmmakers: This is director Bryan Singer’s first film since his disappointing Superman Returns and Valkyrie (and honestly, I think his best films X2 and The Usual Suspects are both vastly overrated). He is working with his frequent collaborators writer Christopher McQuarrie, composer John Ottman, and cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel. New to the team is production designer Gavin Bocquet (Stardust). Cast: The cast is fairly impressive with star Nicholas Hoult and a supporting group featuring Eleanor Tomlinson, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Eddie Marsan, Ewen Bremner, Ian McShane, Warwick Davis, and Bill Nighy. Expectations: Jack the Giant Slayer does look like an entertaining adventure fantasy film, but really it is hard to get my anticipation up too much because I do not fully trust Bryan Singer. For me, he has never made a great film. I do like the cast a lot though (Hoult from Skins, McShane from Deadwood and Kings, Nighy from Dead Man’s Chest , Davis from Life’s Too Short and Deathly Hallows Part 2, and McGregor and Bremner from Trainspotting). That said, I will probably still see this in theatres, because big movies should be seen on big screens. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Oz the Great and Powerful (Sam Raimi) – Adventure Fantasy – Mar 8
Plot Summary: A carnival magician named Oz sets off for an adventure that takes an unexpected turn when he is transported by a tornado to a fantasy land where he is thought to be the inhabitants’ savior from an evil witch. He must use his wits and skills as a magician to stay alive. Filmmakers: Director Sam Raimi has a mixed bag of a career to date. Spider-Man 2 is an incredibly well made masterpiece (and in my opinion the best comic book film still). The Evil Dead Trilogy is a cult classic (and a lot of fun). A Simple Plan is an overlooked gem. But, he also has his fair share of forgettable films. With Oz the Great and Powerful, he is making his first film truly aimed at a young audience (or at least that is the impression I get from the trailer). He is working with frequent collaborators composer Danny Elfman and cinematographer Peter Deming. Production designer Robert Stromberg joins the team via Disney to give it that Alice in Wonderland look (which is unfortunate). Cast: Raimi is also reteaming with his Spider-Man star (well Harry Osborn star) James Franco, who is in the lead. The supporting cast features Mila Kunis, Rachel Weisz, Abigail Spencer, Michelle Williams, and Zach Braff. Bruce Campbell probably shows up for a cameo too (along with the 1973 Oldsmobile Delta 88 and Three Stooges references). Expectations: I love Raimi’s best work. He has such a unique style and great understanding of storytelling – he just sometimes lets his pension for silliness to get out of hand. Oz the Great and Powerful both looks good and terrible to me. The Tim Burton Alice in Wonderland was awful, and a perfect example of visuals and style over substance to a reckless degree. Oz the Great and Powerful’s trailer looks and feels just like Alice in Wonderland, as if Disney wanted to just do the same thing again for a new 3D release – and that worries me. But, the character interactions are decent in the trailer, and Raimi has enough goodwill built up to get the benefit of the doubt. Trailer: HereReview: Here.

Olympus Has Fallen (Antoine Fuqua) – Action Thriller – Mar 22
Plot Summary: Mike Banning was one of the best secret service agents protecting the President, but after a tragic accident he has since been disgraced. However, on one fateful day, he might be the President’s only hope after terrorists attack the White House. Trapped inside, Banning uses his skills and knowledge to try and save the President. Filmmakers: It has been awhile since director Antoine Fuqua made a name for himself with Training Day, as he has since had a disappointing series of films (though, most are entertaining, just not at the same level – though, I did enjoy King Arthur). Olympus Has Fallen does not really look like a step in the right direction, as much as merely more of the same from Fuqua. He is working with composer Trevor Morris (The Tudors), cinematographer Conrad W. Hall (Panic Room), and production designer Derek Hill (Hatfields & McCoys). Cast: The film stars Gerard Butler (who is also producing), and features Aaron Eckhart, Dylan McDermott, Rick Yune, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Melissa Leo, Radha Mitchell, Robert Forster, and Ashley Judd in support. Expectations: Well, at least Olympus Has Fallen (also known as Die Hard in the White House) has Gerard Butler in action hero mode and not romantic comedy mode – though, at this stage, is Gerard Butler in any mode a good thing? 300 might be the last thing anyone actually liked him in and that was 2006 (he was decent in Coriolanus too). The supporting cast is a mixed bag as well. Basically, if you like Die Hard-esque movies then this is probably worth checking out, if not then it probably safe to assume this is just another throwaway action film (entertaining, sure, but nothing special). Also, as everything in Hollywood comes in twos, you can see White House Down in June too and compare. Trailer: Here.

G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Jon Chu) – Action – Mar 29
Summary: Cobra gets the drop on the Joes right off the bat, infiltrating the highest levels of government and declaring the Joes enemies of the State. Most are killed in the initial attack, leaving a few to band together and fight back. Filmmakers: Director Jon Chu does not initially seem like a great fit for the action franchise with a filmography that reads Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, but then remember that G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra was terrible, so what does it matter? Chu is not going to make it worse. He is working with a good action oriented group with composer Henry Jackman (X-Men: First Class), cinematographer Stephen Windon (Fast Five), and production designer Andrew Menzies (Knight and Day). Cast: The film features Channing Tatum, Bruce Willis, Adrianne Palicki, Dwayne Johnson, Ray Stevenson, Ray Park, Walton Goggins, Joseph Mazzello, Byung-hun Lee, Arnold Vosloo, Jonathan Pryce, and RZA – among others. Expectations: I was a huge G.I. Joe fan as a kid. I loved the TV series, the movie, and the 3 and ¾ inch action figures. Thus, when The Rise of Cobra came out in 2009, I had somewhat of a nostalgic anticipation. That film was bad. Now I know better (well I did then too, but I still rented it). Retaliation looks like a big fun dumb action movie. It was delayed from last June to March reportedly to add 3D, but there have also been rumors that with Channing Tatum’s apparent rise in popularity Paramount wanted more of Tatum in the film and thus reshot some of the scenes (though this has been denied by Chu). In any case, if you want something mindless and superficial, but with stuff that blows up, then this is for you. The rest of us will just rent it (or at least think about renting it). Trailer: Here.


21 and Over (Jon Lucas & Scott Moore) – Comedy – Mar 1
Plot Summary: The night before his important medical school exam and the next step to his bright future, a promising student is taken on a rambunctious night by his two best friends to celebrate his 21st birthday. Filmmakers: The writers of The Hangover series, Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, make their directorial debut with this film. They are working with composer Lyle Workman (Get Him to the Greek), cinematographer Terry Stacey (50/50), and production designer Jerry Fleming (Crank). Cast: The film features mostly unknown (or lesser known) actors – like Miles Teller, Skylar Astin, Justin Chon, and Sarah Wright. Expectations: 21 and Over looks like a cross between The Hangover and Project X – which is not a bad thing as both those films are very funny. However, it also walks the fine line between exaggerated fun for comedic effect that works and mindless stupidity that makes the viewer feel like they wasted their time. The odd are not on its side. That said, for fans of crazy party comedies, this is probably worth renting and maybe seeing in theatres. Trailer: Here.

Plot Summary: Magician Burt Wonderstone is having a hard time. He needs to remember what made him love magic as a child. He splits with his longtime partner Anton Marvelton and begins spending time with his boyhood idol Rance Holloway in hopes of recapturing his magic. Also, he must figure out how to one up his rival, a guerrilla street magician named Steve Gray. Filmmakers: Director Don Scardino has spent a lot of time directing episodes of television. His most recent notable work has been on 30 Rock, where he directed about one fourth of the series. He is working with composer Lyle Workman (Win Win), cinematographer Matthew Clark (worked on 30 Rock as well), and production designer Keith Cunningham (The First Time). Cast: The film stars Steve Carell and co-stars Steve Buscemi and Jim Carrey. Olivia Wilde, Alan Arkin, Gillian Jacobs, James Gandolfini, Brad Garrett, and Jay Mohr feature in support. Expectations: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone does have a great comedic cast with Carell, Buscemi, Carrey, and Arkin (and Jacobs is fantastic on Community), and it is the second script from the writing team of Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley who wrote Horrible Bosses which was funny. But, it looks like a typical ‘safe’ Hollywood comedy, full of watered-down recycled jokes and cheap laughs. Maybe I am wrong, but I think this is a rental at best. Trailer: Here.

Admission (Paul Weitz) – Comedy – Mar 22
Plot Summary: Portia Nathan is a Princeton admissions officer. She likes her job and is good at it, but something is missing in her life. However, everything changes when she is introduced to an aspiring Princeton student who might also be her son (who she gave up for adoption as a young mother). Filmmakers: Director Paul Weitz made some good films with his brother Chris early in his career – particularly About a Boy – but has since made a string of disappointing movies on his own (and Chris has not done any better). Maybe this is the film in which he turns things around? He is working with composer Stephen Trask (who Weitz worked with on In Good Company), cinematographer Declan Quinn (who Weitz worked with on Being Flynn), and production designer Sarah Knowles (also worked on Being Flynn). Cast: It stars Tina Fey and co-stars Paul Rudd. Michael Sheen, Wallace Shawn, Lily Tomlin, and Gloria Reuben feature in support. Expectations: I like Tina Fey and Paul Rudd a lot, but Admission does not look all that funny or good. However, it was picked up by Focus Features, which does have a decent track record on average (more so in drama – but still). I hope the trailer is just weak and the film is both better and funnier than it is made out to be, otherwise this will just be other in the line of forgettable films from Weitz. I think it is safe to call this a rental. Trailer: Here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

At the Movies – March 2013 – Part 1: Independent Films

Art-House Dramas:

Beyond the Hills (Cristian Mungiu) – Drama – Mar 8
Plot Summary: Two young women grew up together in an orphanage forming a deep friendship. However, now there is conflict when one of the women has found refuge in a Romanian convent while the other wants her to come with her to live in Germany. Filmmakers: Romanian writer-director Cristian Mungiu shot to international acclaim with his film 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. This is his new acclaimed film. He is again working with cinematographer Oleg Mutu and production designer Mihaela Poenaru. Production designer Calin Papura (Youth Without Youth) is new to the team. Cast: The film stars Cosmina Stratan and Cristina Flutur. Expectations: Beyond the Hills was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival, and won Best Actress (for both stars) and Best Screenplay. It looks like a good character drama, probably in the same vein as 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Trailer: Here.

Ginger & Rosa (Sally Potter) – Drama – Mar 15
Plot Summary: As potential nuclear war looms heavy over the western world, two teenage girls and inseparable friends Ginger and Rosa, growing up in London, find their relationship changing as they proceed through pivotal events in their young lives. Filmmakers: Writer-director Sally Potter is known for her experimental narratives, with films like Orlando and Yes. She is working with cinematographer Robbie Ryan (Fish Tank) and production designer Carlos Conti (On the Road). Cast: The film has a strong group of actors including leads Elle Fanning and Alice Englert. Christina Hendricks, Annette Bening, Timothy Spall, Oliver Platt, and Alessandro Nivola feature in support. Expectations: Ginger & Rosa has been met with mostly poor reviews during its festival tour. However, Elle Fanning is getting rave reviews with most calling the film merely a platform for her talent to be displayed (everything else never quite works as well). Even fans of Sally Potter are not entirely enamored with the film. This is probably only worth renting if you are a big fan of Fanning (and who is not – she is among the crop of brilliant young actresses coming into their own right now). Trailer: Here.

Art-House Comedies:

Starbuck (Ken Scott) – Comedy – Mar 29
Plot Summary: David Wozniak is a slacker who is in a lull of sorts in his life. Then, his life changes when 142 people file a class action lawsuit against him. Their issue? They are all the result of artificial insemination and David is their biological father. Filmmakers: This is Canadian writer-director Ken Scott’s second film, and first to see a wide release in America. Oddly, he is in the process of writing and directing an American remake of this film due in October called The Delivery Man (I cannot think of another example of a director remaking his own film in a different language – Alfred Hitchcock did remake some of his own earlier films, like The Man Who Knew Too Much and some same North by Northwest is a remake of The 39 Steps). He is working with composer David Lafleche, cinematographer Pierre Gill (Upside Down), and art director Danielle Labrie (who worked on Scott’s first Sticky Fingers). Cast: The film stars Patrick Huard. Expectations: Starbuck looks like a great dramedy. It played to acclaim and won many awards in Canada (having come out in 2011 there). It is probably worth checking out for fans of good character driven comedy/dramas (Ha! I thought of two – Ole Bornedal’s Nattevagten in 1994 and Nightwatch in 1997 – and Jean-Marie Poire remade Les Visiteurs 1993 in 2007 with Just Visiting, but somehow kept his two French leads). Trailer: Here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Movie of the Week – A Canterbury Tale

This week’s movie: A Canterbury Tale (1944).

The mystery drama centers around three people who meet in the small town of Kent on their way to Canterbury – a land girl, an American GI, and a British solider. After the girl is assaulted by the mysterious glue-man, the three are determined to discover his identity.

The film is written and directed by the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger (known as the Archers). While it is not as grand as many of their films, it is strikingly compelling and philosophically engaging. Powell and Pressburger made it right in the middle of their string of master works from 1943-1948 (including The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, I Know Where I’m Going!, Stairway to Heaven, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes). The Archers worked with composer Allan Gray, cinematographer Erwin Hillier, and production designer Alfred Junge on the film.

The film stars Eric Portman, Sheila Sim, Dennis Price, Charles Hawtrey, and John Sweet (an actual Sargent in the U.S. Army who was cast to give the character a very naturalistic feel – and he is fantastic).

A Canterbury Tale is a forgotten gem from one of cinema’s greatest filmmaking teams. It is a kind-hearted film that strives to evoke some sort of emotional revelation within the viewer – much like the characters experience. The film was made during WWII and can also be read as a sort of railing cry detailing the people, ideas, values, and traditions that the allies were fighting for. But, the war seems somewhat removed even with two of the main characters being soldiers, as again this is very much a layered spiritual journey (that merely begins with the detective plot to discover who the glue-man is). It is not a canonized work and thus is maybe not an essential film for cinema historians, but I highly recommend it for those looking for films that offer deeper meaning.

Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD

Thursday, February 21, 2013

TV Series of the Month – Spaced

This month’s TV Series: Spaced (1999-2001).

The comedy series is about two slackers Tim and Daisy who must pretend to be a couple so that they can live in the only flat they can afford in North London.

The sitcom was created (and written by) Jessica Stevenson and Simon Pegg, while Edgar Wright directed every episode. It is the first great collaboration between Wright, Pegg and Nick Frost. They have also made Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, and the upcoming The World’s End together.

In addition to Pegg, Stevenson, and Frost, Julia Deakin, Mark Heap, and Katy Carmichael star making up a fantastic comedic cast.

Spaced is only two seasons (fourteen episodes) but is one of the highest rated a most loved comedy series of all time. It seems to follow in the footsteps of The Young Ones and Bottom, and paved the way for shows like The Mighty Boosh and The IT Crowd. The show seems perfectly targeted at the generations that grew up in the 1970s, 80s, and 90s with comics, Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, and other great sci-fi and adventure films, grunge/rock music, and an awareness of pop culture. It is a must-see for fans of Wright, Pegg, Frost, and Stevenson.

Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Movie of the Week – Witness for the Prosecution

This week’s movie: Witness for the Prosecution (1957).

The Agatha Christie play adaptation is about a murder trial, one that features surprise after surprise.

Witness for the Prosecution is considered to be one of writer-director Billy Wilder’s five best films, along with: Double Indemnity, Sunset Blvd., Some Like It Hot, and The Apartment (it is my favorite of his films, followed by Stalag 17 and Sabrina).

Wilder worked with composer Matty Malneck (one of the musician’s two film scores), cinematographer Russell Harlan (who also shot Red River, Rio Bravo, and To Kill a Mockingbird), and art director Alexander Trauner on the film.

It stars Charles Laughton (who is brilliant in it – really, it is worth watching this just for his performance), Tyrone Power (who I think is supposed to be British, but is American and decided against doing an accent), and Marlene Dietrich. Elsa Lanchester, John Williams, Henry Daniell, and Ian Wolfe feature in support.

The film was nominated for six Oscars, including Best Picture, but lost in all its categories (The Bridge on the River Kwai won that year). It is a must-see for fans of Billy Wilder’s work (one of the great American auteurs) and fans of wonderful courtroom dramas, as this is one of the most entertaining. It has so many twists and comedic moments that it ends up being very fun on top of the strong characters and drama.

Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD and Streaming

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Music Spotlight – Favorite Music of 2012: Part 5

ScHoolboy Q – There He Go
There He Go is off ScHoolboy Q’s album Habits & Contradictions. Producer Sounwave builds a fantastic beat off a sample of Menoema’s Wet and Rusting, and ScHoolboy Q’s flow is tonally a perfect match for it. It is an addictive track that is among the best from Q’s great album (another track to check out is Hands on the Wheel). Available for download: here

Sleigh Bells – Comeback Kid
Comeback Kid is off Sleigh Bells’ album Reign of Terror. The track mixes an abrasive (almost metal) Derek Miller beat made up of thrashing guitars and a kicking drum machine with Alexis Krauss’s tantalizingly sweet vocals. It is quite an aesthetically compelling combination (and something that has often been in Sleigh Bells’ favor). Available for download: here

TNGHT – Goooo
Goooo is off TNGHT’s debut EP TNGHT. Producers Lunice and Hudson Mowhawke have created a brazen sound, mixing electronic sensibilities and southern style hip hop 808 drums, which also has a clean precise sheen to it, while still feeling lush. Goooo jumps out of the speakers, and the listener knows they are in for something great when through heavy drums start hitting. Available for download: here

The Weeknd – Twenty Eight
Twenty Eight is off The Weeknd’s album Trilogy (as one of the bonus tracks). The Weeknd (Abel Tesfaye) was one of the great breakthrough artists of 2011. Twenty Eight (like most of his work on Trilogy) has a dark and regretful tone, while feeling very personal. Doc McKinney and Illangelo provide a simple backing beat, allowing Tesfaye’s vocals to shine (which at times remind me of Michael Jackson). Available for download: here

The xx – Angels
Angels is off The xx’s album Coexist. Jamie xx’s musical accompaniment has a quiet and somber tone, while Romy Madley Croft’s vocals are seductively intimate. The xx seem to use negative space to their advantage in creating an aesthetic environment of intimacy and gravity – as if this track were only for the ears of its listener. There is something very beguiling about it. Available for download: here

Monday, February 18, 2013

Music Spotlight – Favorite Music of 2012: Part 4

Kendrick Lamar – Cartoons & Cereal
Cartoons & Cereal features Gunplay, and is a song that Kendrick Lamar released for free online. While Lamar released maybe the best album of 2012 with good kid, m.A.A.d. city, Cartons & Cereal is even better. Producer THC provides the track with a bumping, sonically dark beat. Lamar and Gunplay seem like an odd pairing, but their sort of anti-social personas meld together exceptionally well (Gunplay’s verse is particularly wonderful). It is a wholly satisfying and utterly refreshing track (in a world of overly generic hip hop). Available for download: here

Purity Ring – Obedear
Obedear is off Purity Ring’s debut album Shrines. The Canadian duo of singer Megan James and producer Corin Roddick have created a haunting song with Obedear. James’s voice is manipulated to have a surreal and artificial sound, contrasting innocence and passion. Roddick’s electronic dream synth pop glimmers (and definitely has similarities to Crystal Castles and the Knife). Available for download: here

Pusha T – Exodus 23:1
Exodus 23: 1 features The-Dream, and is a song released by Pusha T for free online (as part of the G.O.O.D. Fridays ramp up to Cruel Summer). Rico Beats provides a dark, hypnotic track that samples Notorious B.I.G.’s What’s Beef (it is a phenomenal beat). Pusha T spits fire (and there is speculation that he is going after YMCMB). Regardless whether this is or is not a diss-track, it is a great rap song. Pusha T asserts himself as the best rapper signed to Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music. Available for download: here

REKS – Straight, No Chaser
Straight, No Chaser features Slaine and is off REKS’s album Straight, No Chaser. Working again with producer Statik Selektah, the Boston MC delivers a classic hip hop track – that actually has real lyrics (and not just throwaway ego strutting). REKS goes line-for-line with Slaine resulting in two great verses. Available for download: here

Rick Ross – Ten Jesus Pieces
Ten Jesus Pieces features Stalley and is off Rick Ross’s album God Forgives, I Don’t. The reflective track finds a laidback/redemptive Ross rapping over a luscious beat from J.U.S.T.I.C.E.  Leauge. While Ross seems to mostly go in on street bangers these days, I like is more soulful tracks a lot – and this is a wonderful example of how well his voice works with a more impassioned beat (Kanye West’s Devil in a New Dress is another). Available for download: here

Friday, February 15, 2013

Music Spotlight – Favorite Music of 2012: Part 3

Frank Ocean – Pyramids
Pyramids is off Frank Ocean’s major label debut channel ORANGE (following up his brilliant mixtape nostalgia, ULTRA). The epic modern R&B track produced by Malay has two parts, as it pulls together narratives about the famed Egyptian Queen Cleopatra and a dancer (of the same name) working at a club called the Pyramids, and has a fantastic sound and style. Frank Ocean took over R&B in 2012, thanks to his great album, this song, and Thinkin Bout You. Available for download: here

Grimes – Oblivion
Oblivion is off Grimes’s album Visions. Canadian electronic/synth pop artist Grimes (Claire Boucher) became somewhat of a household name in 2012 (well, households with good taste in music and the internet) with her two hits off Visions: Oblivion and Genesis. Oblivion is poppy, atmospheric, and even dark and creepy, with Boucher’s falsetto vocals. It also happens to have my favorite music video of the year. Available for download: here

Health – Tears
Tears is a song that Health recorded for the Max Payne 3 soundtrack. The Los Angeles noise rock group delivers a great electronic track that is hypnotic with its heavy droning loop-driven beat. Tears works both within the game and as a standalone release. Available for download: here

How to Dress Well – Cold Nites
Cold Nites is off How to Dress Well’s album Total Loss. Experimental pop producer and R&B artist How to Dress Well (Tom Krell) is known for his ethereal and sexy sound, and Cold Nites is no different, but it also has sort of an angry edge to it – stemming from Krell’s lyrics – and a chilling tone as well. The combination is utterly compelling. Available for download: here

Kanye West & Pusha T – New God Flow
New God Flow features Ghostface Killah and is off Kanye West’s group album Cruel Summer. The track, produced by West (and co-produced by Boogz & Tapez and Anthony Kilhoffer), just has a wonderful soul beat build on a gospel sample from the master of soul beats. West and Pusha T have very cocky, but engaging verses and guest Ghostface Killah reminds everyone that he is still one for the best in the game. Available for download: here

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Music Spotlight – Favorite Music of 2012: Part 2

Crystal Castles – Wrath of God
Wrath of God is off Crystal Castles’ album Crystal Castles (III). The electronic track engages the listener enchanting them with its great driving danceable beat, courtesy of Ethan Kath. Alice Glass’s vocals also have a bewitching siren-like quality. Her lyrics carry a strong political message of cruelty in the world. Yet, even with bleak tone, the song is still beautiful as well. Available for download: here

Danny Brown – Grown Up
Grown Up is a non-album single. Danny Brown had a great 2012, appearing on a ton of other people’s albums (plus his album XXX has really started to catch on). He could very well be one of the top hip hop artists of 2013. Party Supplies provides the track with a fantastic beat that is very catchy and fun. In addition to the beat, Brown’s lyrics are strong as he raps about his youth in a very relatable manner (the song also has a brilliant music video, see above). Available for download: here

Dusted – Pale Light
Pale Light is off Dusted’s debut album Total Dust. The Canadian duo of songwriter Brian Borcherdt and producer Leon Taheny capture a wonderful sound with the track. It has a folk sensibility but played through an electronic echoy reverb that gives it a uniqueness and great aesthetic quality. Its soft manner seems to momentarily disguise its power and allure. Available for download: here

Ellie Goulding – Anything Could Happen
Anything Could Happen is off Ellie Goulding’s album Halcyon. Like a number of artists on this list, Goulding had a breakthrough year in 2012 – both with her new material and her chart climbing single Lights. Anything Could Happen (produced by Goulding and Jim Eliot), the lead single of Halcyon, is probably the best pop song of the year. It just grabs the listener right away, and Goulding’s singular voice just soars. Available for download: here

Family Band – Rest
Rest is off Family Band’s debut album Grace & Lies. The Brooklyn duo of visual artist Kim Krans and metal/thrash guitarist Jonny Ollsin make an unlikely pairing for such a sad, dark slow song. While Night Song is a better single, Rest just has a foreboding power to it that seems to entrance the listener. Krans’s voice is transfixing while Ollsin’s guitar is sheer and grim (and quiet). It is the kind of folk music that one might play after the world has ended – looking out across the wasteland. Available for download: here