Monday, September 30, 2013

Movie of the Week – The Name of the Rose

This week’s movie: The Name of the Rose (1986).

Monk William of Baskerville, a noted investigator, arrives at an isolate abbey to prove that a series of murders is not a sign that the abbey is inhabited by Satan, but rather that the deaths are the work of man.

The film is directed by French director Jean-Jacques Annaud. The Name of the Rose is his best film, but Quest for Fire, The Bear, and Enemy at the Gates are other notable films he has made.  He worked with composer James Horner (whose score is quite good and memorable), brilliant cinematographer Tonino Delli Colli, and production designer Dante Ferretti.

Sean Connery stars (winning a BAFTA for his performance) with Christian Slater co-starring. Michael Lonsdale, Valentina Vargas, Ron Perlman, and F. Murray Abraham feature in support.

The film is a great mystery drama with fantastic visuals and tone, but it may be most interesting for fans of Sean Connery. Disregarding his work as James Bond, Connery’s best films are as follows (in chronologic order): Marnie, The Hill, The Man Who Would Be King, A Bridge Too Far, The Name of the Rose, The Untouchables, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and The Hunt for Red October. Thus, this is a must-see for fans.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video-On-Demand

Friday, September 27, 2013

CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe (2013) – Review

Review: CHVRCHES is synthpop group from Glasgow, Scotland, comprised of three members: Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty. The Bones of What You Believe is their debut album.

Musically, the group falls easily into the current trend of electronically influenced pop music, but CHVRCHES seems to rise above the sameness of many of pop’s current acts. While there are moments in which their music feels like New Order or Daft Punk (among other influences), the trio presents their sound in a very fresh-feeling manner. The songs are all infectious and emotion filled. Sonically, the music is very synth and drum machine driven, but again it somehow feels new and different (even though it really is not) with grand ambition. Lauren Mayberry’s sweet and enchanting voice is in many ways its own instrument, arranged with the drums and synths to create an overall sound that is just bewitching, catchy, and visceral.

There are certainly a number of great pop singles on the album, but there are also wonderful deep cuts (like the brilliantly atmospheric track Tether). And to this, the album is strong throughout, void of throwaway filler tracks (which is a nice change of pace from what listeners can normally expect from pop releases). CHVRCHES very much believes in the concept of an album – the ebb and flow – and thusly meticulously and precisely structured The Bones of What You Believe to musically swell with emotion in moments and just feel fun in others, creating an engrossing and musically sweeping experience for the listener.

Lyrically, the album at first appears to be made up of a series of dark love songs – maybe even a little detached and sinister. However, Mayberry’s voice carries with it such an intimacy (perfectly juxtaposing to the big sonic sound of the synths) that the listener cannot help but fall under her spell. Her voice is delicate and jubilant often in the same moments.

There was a lot of anticipation for CHVRCHES’s album after a string of fantastic singles, and The Bones of What You Believe does not disappoint in the slightest. It is a hip, layered, and fun pop album that grabs the listener and holds them from start to finish. This is not an album to miss. 5/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      Lies – Produced by CHVRCHES
2)      Recover – Produced by CHVRCHES
3)      The Mother We Share – Produced by CHVRCHES

Available on: Digital Download

Drake – Nothing Was the Same (2013) – Review

Review: Drake is back with his third major label release Nothing Was the Same, following up the very good album Take Care and the hit-and-miss Thank Me Later.

One thing that stands out about Nothing Was the Same immediately: Drake is not interested in sounding like every other MC out there right now. Instead, he is crafting and refining his own unique sound, and Nothing Was the Same benefits greatly as a result. Hip hop has become agonizingly sonically monotonous. A lot of it is just plain boring. Meanwhile, Aubrey Graham has developed a wonderful musical chemistry with producer and writer Noah “40” Shebib giving his albums fluidity, which is definitely the case here. The whole album feels like a cohesive project, rather than a random amalgamation of tracks. It also helps that this album primarily features Drake alone. The only other verse on the album comes from Jay-Z (and really, it was unneeded). Graham has the confidence to stand alone and not rely on a plethora of pointless/useless collaborations with other MCs.

Other producers also give Nothing Was the Same some strong musical moments as well. Mike Zombie, DJ Dahi, Nineteen85, Majid Jordan, Hudson Mohawke, Boi-1da (another frequent collaborator of Drake’s), and Key Wane (who produces the great bonus track All Me) all provide good beats, which Graham and Shebib form to fit the album’s musical aesthetic. The beats overall have a very minimalistic, muted sound.

Drake’s music succeeds, however, more so on his ability to let the listener in (something that he takes heat for as well – being too sensitive) than the album’s musicality (which is also good, but not groundbreaking or amazing). Graham is accessible with intimate and real lyrics about his relatable insecurities – in addition to the typical boasts of wealth, women, and skills. The listener, much like with Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar’s work, feels like they are being invited into Graham’s inner most thoughts, which is compelling when most hip hop is just fake.

Nothing Was the Same feels and sounds like a Drake album, which is a good thing, as he is a very talented artists who is unafraid to be himself. While it does not ascend to the same ambitious or artistic heights as Kanye West’s Yeezus, it is still one of 2013’s best hip hop releases and well worth checking out. 4/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      Started from the Bottom – Produced by Mike Zombie
2)      Hold On, We’re Going Home – Produced by Nineteen85 and Majid Jordan, featuring Majid Jordan
3)      Worst Behavior – Produced by DJ Dahi

Available on: Digital Download

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Prisoners (2013) – Review

Review: Prisoners is a dark, involving mystery. The film is about Keller Dover, a man who will stop at nothing to get his daughter back after she and her friend are kidnapped. Meanwhile, police Detective Loki begins to unravel an almost thirty-year-old mystery as he searches for the two girls.

Director Denis Villeneuve’s narrative can be taken as a character drama as the film explores the effects the tragedy of losing one’s daughter takes on the Dover family and the Birch family (the parents of the other girl). Detective Loki’s dramatic journey is also showcased heavily. However, the film works better as a straight mystery. Villeneuve structures the narrative primarily around the discovery of new pieces of information, eventually leading the characters and audience to the kidnapper – fitting the genre norm. The characters are but mere pieces on the board that Villeneuve moves around to fulfill their narrative roles, divulging information and making discoveries as they do.

There is not really a lot of context into who these character are and why they are the way they are when the audience is introduced to them – it is not necessary given that this is a detective film and the narrative is driven by the unraveling of the mystery. But, for this to really work as a character drama (which at times it seems like it is trying to be), the audience needs more background. As it is, there is no context for comparison. The audience sees the characters lead to dark places, what the strain makes them capable of, but for all the audience knows these characters have always been on the edge, and this kidnapping is just the tipping point or an excuse and not a full on venture down uncharted waters.

Keller Dover both appears very capable and willing to commit the acts that he undertakes under the guise of trying to find his daughter, but the audience is also shown moments in which he feels the gravity of what he is actually doing. But, more than Villeneuve exploring this as a way to tell the audience something about Dover or to show the audience the journey that he is on, he is looking at the darkness that all men have within them. The reason that Villeneuve does not want the audience to know these characters too well, or have a strong connection to them initially, is so he can present them as just average Americans who easily accept darkness and evil into their hearts when faced with tragedy. None of the characters is shown as being noble; there is only cruelty – every action justified by an even greater perceived evil. This also enables Villeneuve to do something particularly interesting: even though Dover’s actions are unforgiving, in the moment the audience is right there with him because in their hearts, they too believe Alex is guilty (without actual proof). Thus, Villeneuve asks the audience as well to look inside themselves and consider what they too are capable of and what their true nature really is when faced with heightened emotions and circumstances.

All this leaves Prisoners feeling rather heavy emotionally. Plus, Villeneuve paces the film very slowly on purpose to drag out the agony to get the attended emotional response from the audience – a feeling of being emotional drained, as if there is no light in the world, only shadow, bleakness, and despair.  And yet, Villeneuve brings the narrative to somewhat of a happy conclusion, but he has done such a marvelous job of dampening the world and humanity it does not really matter. None of these characters will come away from this the same (and not in a positive way).

However, while the slow pacing is effective in that it allows Villeneuve to create an overall tone of despair, the film does feel long at times, which does detract from the narrative slightly. Villeneuve does counteract this, to some degree, with great thrilling moments and intriguing story twists though.

Detective Loki is an interesting character, but the audience never really knows anything about him. Villeneuve only shows him on the job. The case seems to be taking a toll on him, more so than maybe it should be, but the audience does not really know why. He is a loner, has some interesting tattoos, an odd twitch with his eyes, and seems to be completely engrossed in his job with nothing else going on. But really, he is just a shell for the audience – a conduit by which the audience gets clues and unravels the mystery. Loki is almost void of anything the audience can latch onto and take stock in, and yet at least half the narrative is spent with him. To some extent, Loki can be seen as the film’s way of portraying itself as a mystery thriller, while Dover is its more grandiose narrative endeavor of digging deeper into the core of man – and whether man is inherently good or evil.

Villeneuve takes a perverse look at Christian-based religion (or just religion in general really) as well. The characters that carry out the most evil acts are all justified (in their own eyes) by God, as are many who have done terrible things. What does it say about man, and his relationship with God, that he can know so truly that his actions, no matter how brutal or socially vilified, are just? And also, what does it say about man’s perception of God that he believes that his actions are what God wants/intends or that he will be forgiven? In both cases, man is merely projecting himself onto the idea of God as a means of justifying or coming to terms with what man has done or is going to do. Villeneuve presents all of these characters as being morally wrong: the man of faith who murders a confessed child-killer rather than trying to forgive and rehabilitate him through the proper channels (assuming that is even possible); a father who brutally and unforgivably tortures a man he believes to be involved in his daughter’s disappearance for information instead of leaving it in the hands of the police; a mother and father who sit by and do nothing to stop the torture of this man; and a kidnapper/killer who takes children to reveal to God who people truly are on the inside (as if God would not already know) – weak, scared, and brutal.

Everything thematically adds up to an experience that does not look too pleasantly on the nature of man. Prisoners is a journey into the darkness; and once there, man’s true form is revealed (much as the kidnapper intended). But, while the film is emotionally draining and maybe overlong, it is also a very good mystery with some great thrilling moments that takes a genre that has become quite mundane and boring in recent years (plagued with by-the-numbers and laughable plot-twists) and presents something that is wonderfully compelling as a mystery genre Hollywood film.

Technical, aesthetic & acting achievements: Denis Villeneuve has really announced himself as a new master of the mystery genre, a genre that has all but died in contemporary cinema – co-opted by Hollywood injecting the films with out-of-place big action set pieces or awful (and stupid) plot twists (see this year’s Now You See Me for an example). With Prisoners and (more so) Incendies (one of 2010’s ten best films), Villeneuve has breathed new life into the genre that when does right has given cinema some of its greatest and most engrossing moments and stories. I very much look forward to his next film Enemy.

Prisoners as a whole has a very dark tone, from the music to the lighting and production design. Composer Johann Johannsson’s score accompanies this tone very effectively, in a sense further pulling any feelings of joy or hope out of the audience. Roger Deakin’s cinematography captures the tone wonderfully as well. Everything looks very dreary and muted, especially after the girls are taken. The opening scenes are full of bright fall colors and the warmth of Thanksgiving, but that color never really finds its way back into the narrative. Stylistically, the film sort of has the same look and feel as another great mystery Se7en. Patrice Vermette’s production design too thematically presents the world as being a dismal scary place, probably best seen in his sets for Dover’s father’s dilapidated building, the dirt basement below Father Dunn’s house, the decrepit maze-graffiti-filled house, and the kidnapper’s dirty, stripped down holding areas. Every creative aspect of the film works well to fulfill Villeneuve’s intended feel and look.

The cast is strong throughout. Terrence Howard, Maria Bello, and particularly Viola Davis are good in small supporting roles. David Dastmalchian just seems naturally very creepy and off, which serves him very well here. He also plays his character with an exciting intensity that pulls all focus. Paul Dano has the most difficult role in the film as Alex, the man Dover believes is responsible for his daughter’s disappearance. Dano plays with Dover and the audience. He appears innocent, but all involved are certain of his guilt as well. His performance allows the audience to support Dover, regardless of his brutality (which in turn should evoke questions about ourselves). Melissa Leo is also very good as Alex’s adoptive mother. She seems beaten down by the world, but there is something more there too. Jake Gyllenhaal is quite good, especially given that he is basically playing a shell of a character as Loki. He brings so much to the role, creating a real person out of nothing. Hugh Jackman as Dover feels in moments as being rather flat. He basically is just really angry and yells a lot. But, his performance is deceptively great. There is such intensity to his energy. He comes off as a tortured soul, not just because of what happened, but also as a man that has always lived in the darkness.

Summary & score: Prisoners is a great mystery with some good thrilling moments, but maybe more so it is a very depressing look at the nature of man and his internal darkness. 7/10

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Top 100 Films of the 20th Century – Part 8: 70-66

Rank: 70
Release Year: 1984
Genre: Gangster
Director: Sergio Leone
Plot Summary: Noodles returns home to the Lower East Side of Manhattan after a thirty-year absence to find that he must still confront the ghosts and regrets of his old life, as a Prohibition-era gangster.
What Makes It Special: Sergio Leone is best remembered for his Spaghetti Westerns, but his foray into the gangster genre also proved to be one of his most fruitful cinematic endeavors. Once Upon a Time in America combines wonderful elements from multiple collaborators: from the fine actors to Ennio Morricone’s beautiful score and Tonino Delli Colli’s magnificent photography. While American directors like Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola have seemingly co-opted the genre in modern thinking, Leone’s film is still among the finest gangster films ever made.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video-On-Demand

Rank: 69
Release Year: 1947
Genre: Drama/Thriller
Plot Summary: Five nuns try desperately to adapt to their remote, exotic surroundings after opening a convent in the Himalayas. The beauty and vastness of the landscape along with the way of life of the natives seems to be getting to them, causing each of them to question their vows.
What Makes It Special: Black Narcissus is a masterfully directed, acted, designed, and shot film. Jack Cardiff’s Technicolor photography is lavishly alluring and stunningly evocative. It is a haunting film that takes on what may seem to be the incorruptible vow a nun takes and shatters it with glimpses of divine pleasure. Powell & Pressburger create a wonderful sense of tension as the characters each feel themselves engulfed by everything their surroundings represent, each losing their devotion (or rather finding a new kind of faith).
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video-On-Demand

Rank: 68
Release Year: 1945
Genre: Romance Drama
Director: David Lean
Plot Summary: Laura is in a happy marriage, but one day she meets a charming stranger in a train station and is tempted to cheat on her husband.
What Makes It Special: Brief Encounter is a powerful and moving romance drama about a doomed love affair. What makes it particularly interesting is that Laura has no intension of cheating, as she is happy in her life with her husband, but then she meets Dr. Alec Harvey and he ignites something within her. Thus, Laura struggles internally with a choice – should she give in to her desire? This creates wonderful moments of joy and despair, perfectly capturing the feeling of falling in love (right at the beginning – the excitement and terror). David Lean brings such a strong emotional energy to the film that it is almost impossible not to be swept up in the narrative.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video-On-Demand

Rank: 67
Release Year: 1994
Genre: Romance Drama
Director: Kar Wai Wong
Plot Summary: Split into two stories about love. The first follows Cop 223, a man who cannot seem to get over his recent breakup with his long-term girlfriend – meanwhile, he is tracking a heroin dealer who is in trouble with her boss after losing her latest shipment. The second follows Cop 663, a man also dealing with a recent breakup – meanwhile, however, a local girl who works at a lunch counter he frequents has a crush on him.
What Makes It Special: Kar Wai Wong’s Chungking Express is visually mesmerizing. Wong tells his stories with flashes of almost impressionistic color and kinetic energy, matched by a brilliant and fitting soundtrack (specifically The Mamas & the Papas’ California Dreaming) and wonderful performances from his cast. The film explores both the pain and happiness that love can provide – the romantic longing that we all experience. It marks one of the clear turning points in cinema in the 1990s, embracing the new auteurs of independent film.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray

Rank: 66
Release Year: 1940
Genre: Comedy
Director: Charles Chaplin
Cast: Charles Chaplin, Paulette Goddard, and Jack Oakie
Plot Summary: European dictator Adenoid Hynkel is leading his country towards war. Meanwhile a poor and kind Jewish barber living in the slums bears a striking resemblance to Hynkel. One day, the barber is mistaken for Hynkel.
What Makes It Special: Silent-film auteur Charles Chaplin did something extraordinary in 1940 – he made a film that both criticized and poked fun at Adolf Hitler, while the United States was steadfast in its stance to stay out of the war (most Americans believed that it was Europe’s war and that America had no place in it, still reeling from the bad sentiment felt by many over America’s role in WWI). Chaplin put his career on the line to justifiably and courageously attack a man (who had been named Time’s Man of the Year in 1939) who was brutally murdering and dehumanizing millions of people. This eventually resulted in Chaplin being victimized by American authorities and eventually deported. All that said, The Great Dictator is a brilliant political satire, and even more than that an extremely funny Charlie Chaplin film. It is also magnificently powerful and poignant. The final speech that the barber gives, posing as Hynkel, is maybe the most moving in cinema history.
Trailer: Here
Available on: Blu-ray and Video-On-Demand

Monday, September 23, 2013

Movie of the Week – J.S.A.: Joint Security Area

This week’s movie: J.S.A.: Joint Security Area (2000).

To avoid an international conflict after the alleged murder of two North Korean soldiers by one South Korean Soldier, a team of neutral investigators is brought in to examine all the evidence and interview the suspect. However, upon digging deeper, something just does not fit the official story: sixteen bullets are recovered for a gun that only holds fifteen. So what really happened?

The film is written and directed by Korean auteur Chan-wook Park. While it is his third feature, the film served as his breakthrough both in Korean and for an international audience. He has since gone on to make the acclaimed films Oldboy, Lady Vengeance, and Thirst. He also directed this year’s Stoker. Park worked with composers Jun-Seok Bang and Yeong-wook Jo, cinematographer Sung-Bok Kim, and art director James David Goldmark on the film.

With J.S.A. Chan-wook Park plays in many genres. At face value, the film works as a mystery with the details of what really happened slowly being divulged to the audience. The film can also be taken as a political statement about the ridiculous of Koreans being raised to hate and fear their neighbors (to the North or South). But, personally, I think it works best as a character piece, looking at the transformation of a man through friendship. It is a must-see for fans of Asian cinema and those that enjoy mysteries.

Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Maybach Music Group – Self Made, Vol. 3 (2013) – Review

Review: Rick Ross’s Maybach Music Group (MMG) has a large lineup to feature on his third posse album, including: Wale, Meek Mill, Gunplay, Rockie Fresh, Stalley, French Montana, and Omarion.

While Self Made Vol 1 and Vol 2 highlight both the talents of MMG’s artists and the sound that the label has cultivated (through the use of their frequently collaborating producers), Vol 3 just has a very bland sound musically – leading some to wonder if the label has peaked. It is a boring album to listen to (which has become a common trend in hip hop in general, and noticeably among MMG releases, particularly Meek Mill’s Dreams & Nightmares and to an even greater extent French Montana’s terrible Excuse My French).

The album is also overstuffed. MMG already has eight artists to showcase – and to this, only Rick Ross, Wale, Meek Mill, and Rockie Fresh really stand out. There are a ton of featured guests, which while a common feature of these Self Made albums it has gotten out of hand. It is easy to just get lost among all the scattered voices, many adding nothing of interest. Only J. Cole and Lupe Fiasco really bring anything to the album (Pusha T’s verse is good too, but way too short and on a bad song). It is too bad that the guests could not have been reduced greatly, leaving room for more from Gunplay and Stalley. Plus, zero French Montana and Omarion would have been better (but that is probably asking too much, since they are on the label).

Really the only positive this album provides, other than a few decent tracks (see Essential Tracks below), is that the album introduces Rockie Fresh, a new MMG signee. He has potential.

Overall, there is really no reason to pick up this album, unless you are a big fan of MMG and their sound. Rather, just cherry pick a couple tracks. 2/5

Essential Tracks:
1) Poor Decisions – Produced by Jake One, featuring Wale, Rick Ross, and Lupe Fiasco
2) God Is Great – Produced by Boi-1da, featuring Rockie Fresh
3) Black Grammys – Produced by Tone P, featuring Wale, Meek Mill, Rockie Fresh, and J. Cole

Available on: Digital Download

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

TV Series of the Month – Terriers

This month’s TV Series: Terriers (2010).

The series follows two down and out private detectives Hank Dolworth and Britt Pollack who stumble onto something a little too big and a little too deep when one of their friends ends up dead.

The show’s creator is Ted Griffin. He also wrote the films Ocean’s Eleven and Matchstick Men, making the material a good fit. While it was his first television project, Shawn Ryan (The Shield) and Tim Minear (Angel) also served as executive producers with Griffin, fostering a strong creative team.

The show stars Donal Logue and Michael Raymond-James, and features Laura Allen, Kimberly Quinn, and Rockmond Dunbar in support.

Like many other projects that Shawn Ryan is involved in, Terriers was great but short-lived. FX typically does well with its great gritty dramas, but it could not find an audience for this overlooked gem. It is well worth checking out for fans of crime dramas that have a gritty, but fun feel. The show mostly works episodically, but there is a main narrative that hangs over the full season and ties everything together. The series also has a satisfying ending, despite being cancelled.

Trailer: Here
Available on: Video On-Demand

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Weeknd – Kiss Land (2013) – Review

Review: The Weeknd took the modern R&B world by storm in 2011, releasing three brilliant mixtapes (which he then remasted and released together as Trilogy). He was probably the music artist of the year. Thus, anticipation for his first commercial release has been incredibly high (and by the same token, expectations have been impossibly high as well).

Kiss Land is musically different that The Weeknd’s past work. Abel Tesfaye this time works primarily with fellow Canadians producers DannyBoyStyles and Jason “DaHeala” Quenneville, and L.A. producer Silkky Johnson stops by for the wonderful title track. However, it is clear that Tesfaye is the main creative force behind the album. In addition to writing all the tracks, he also produces or co-produces every song. The sound overall does harken back to his mixtapes, as it too feels like a night of partying that has gone on too long leading to the weariness of the come-down. Yet, like each of his releases, there is a distinct sonic quality to it. This album is dark, almost without an ounce of hopefulness. It has a beauty to it as well however.

Lyrically, Tesfaye is to some extent still focused on the same thematic material that populated his mixtapes. He seems to long for a meaningful relationship, but only finds (or gives into) the shallowness of what night life offers (alcohol, drugs, women, and so on). There is a real sadness to his music, which his voice accompanies to such an affecting result for the listener. Pop music about failed relationships and pain seems to resonate to a much stronger degree than happy songs, and here Tesfaye is able to create a fully developed narrative of crushed hopes and emotional suffering.

Tesfaye is also not afraid to primarily stand alone as the sole voice on his record (which is a nice change for what we typically see in modern R&B and Hip Hop). Frequent collaborator Drake is the only featured guest, and his verse is brief (and on maybe the weakest song on the album).

While Kiss Land is not The Weeknd’s best release, it is still a wonderfully engrossing, emotive, and dense work. 4/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      Kiss Land – Produced by Silkky Johnson
2)      Tears in the Rain – Produced by DannyBoyStyles, The Weeknd, and Jason “DaHeala” Quenneville
3)      Love In the Sky – Produced by DannyBoyStyles, The Weeknd, and Jason “DaHeala” Quenneville

Available on: Digital Downloand

Monday, September 16, 2013

Movie of the Week – Stagecoach

This week’s movie is: Stagecoach (1939).

Nine strangers take what begins as a typical stagecoach journey through Arizona on the way to New Mexico only to find themselves in danger when Geronimo goes on the warpath. The nine people become band together to survive the threat, learning secrets about each other.

The film is one of director John Ford’s masterpiece westerns starring John Wayne (along with The Searchers and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance). Though Ford won four Best Director Oscars during his career, he never won for one of his westerns (for which he is best remembered). Stagecoach was also the only western in which he received a Best Director nomination. Ford worked with composer Gerard Carbonara, cinematographer Bert Glennon, and art director Alexander Toluboff on the film.

The ensemble cast features Claire Trevor, Andy Devine, John Carradine, Thomas Mitchell (who won an Oscar for his work in the film), Louise Platt, George Bancroft, Donald Meek, and Berton Churchill in addition to John Wayne.

What sets Stagecoach apart from other westerns is that it is not just a typical cowboys and Indians or white hats and black hats genre piece, though there is a bit of that in there too. Rather, it develops its characters, digging into social issues like social prejudices, alcoholism, and greed. This film was also highly regarded by auteur Orson Welles, who studied it intensely before and during the making of his first feature Citizen Kane. It is a must-see for fans of Ford and Wayne, and those looking to see the best westerns in cinematic history. Stagecoach was nominated for Best Picture, but lost to Gone with the Wind.

Trailer: Here
Available on: DVD and Video-On-Demand

Friday, September 13, 2013

John Legend – Love in the Future (2013) – Review

Review: Love in the Future is John Legend’s fourth solo studio album, after taking five years between releases (in which he recorded Wake Up! with the Roots, and featuring on a ton of hip hop tracks).

With Love in the Future, John Legend wanted to make a modern R&B/soul album unlike anything heard in the genre. He also employed a wide mix of great producers to help shape the sound, often having multiple producers work on tracks independently. That said, Legend, Kanye West, and Dave Tozer serve as the album’s overall creative forces. The result of having many creative voices actually works out pretty well, as Love in the Future has a very different and interesting sound – while still clearly feeling both like a soul album and a John Legend album. It is a much better and more interesting release than Evolver, but it will likely disappoint Legend’s initial fans who loved Get Lifted and Once Again, as Legend has moved on musically.

While the album definitely feels new and different (but with a connection to the past), it does not adopt the extremely (probably overly so) popular trend of an EDM vibe/influence. This very much feels like a soul record. It is modern in a fresh way, without the synths and electronic beats. The music that accompanies Legend is lush, eerie (at times), and tempered to meet the parameters of modern soul. Musically, it is an album that plays well in the background, with only a few tracks that really stand out.

Lyrically, Legend sings about the joys of romance. The lyrics feel like they are mostly aimed at new couples who are still in the throes of just being around one and other with optimistic plans for the future. It is a pleasant tone that fits Legend’s demographic and talent.

Love in the Future does not revolutionize soul music, but it is a good album – and one with more crossover potential than most classically sounding soul records. 3/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      The Beginning… – Produced by Hit-Boy
2)      Made to Love – Produced by Dave Tozer
3)      We Loved It – Produced by Kanye West and Jeff Bhasker, featuring Seal

Available on: Digital Download

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Big Sean – Hall of Fame (2013) – Review

Review: Big Sean is a talented but polarizing MC due to his delivery. For his fans, he is a skilled and funny lyrist, but for others he is nothing more than a punch line rapper whose voice sounds too poppy.

With Hall of Fame, Big Sean’s second studio release, he tries to both give his fans want they want, while still making an album that is relevant in today’s hip hop market. To that end, the album succeeds. It is a stronger release than Finally Famous (but only marginally). More than the body of work here, Sean seems to have grown as an artist and lyrist. He spends a large portion of this album actually telling stories and speaking about who he is and where he comes from in a much more inviting manner. The album feels personal and not just generic punch lines and stunting.

Musically, Big Sean has good chemistry with producers No ID and Key Wane, who handle most of the album’s production. While there are not really any standout tracks that just pop, overall Hall of Fame is good sonically. The beats fit Sean’s style. In terms of featured guests, the album has an okay mix, highlighted by NaS and Kid Cudi, but really most of the guesses add nothing. Sadly, what could have been the album’s best track with wonderful guests – Control featuring Kendrick Lamar and Jay Electronic – did not make the cut due to licensing issues.

While Hall of Fame is probably not going to win Big Sean any new fans, it is a good pop hip hop album that is worth checking out for those who like the GOOD Music brand. 3/5

Essential Tracks:
1)      Guap – Produced by Key Wane and Young Chop
2)      10 2 10 – Produced by No ID
3)      First Chain – Produced by No ID and Key Wane, featuring NaS and Kid Cudi

Available on: Digital Download