Saturday, December 27, 2014

Top Five - Movie Review

Top Five (R) 102 mins B+
Ice Cube, EPMD, Ice-T, Krs-One, Public Enemy 

Starring Chris Rock, Rosario Dawson, JB Smoove, Gabrielle Union, Tracy Morgan, Leslie Jones, Anders Holm, Cedric the Entertainer, Kevin Hart, Jerry Seinfeld, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Hayley Marie Norman, Sherri Shepherd, Ben Vereen, Jay Pharoah and Karlie Redd

Top Five is Chris Rock's third directorial effort. The film is a little raunchy, a little rough around the edges, but underneath it all is a thoughtful celebrity satire. Rock plays Andre Allen, a comedian-turn-movie star who is tired of making mindless Hollywood films. Desperate to be taken seriously as an actor, our protagonist is in New York pimping his first dramatic film, Uprize! In New York he is shadowed by Chelsea Brown (Dawson), a New York Times reporter assigned to write a piece about him. (Spoiler Alert!) Allen and Brown proceed to have a New York love-hate-love story of sorts. Meanwhile, his reality star bride-to-be (Union) plans their television wedding in Los Angeles.

The film features a lot of cameos, a lot of laughs and inescapable Woody Allen references (it's the New York thing). But, overall this is a layered film about being black, being famous, and living in reality. If you can get past some of the language, you'll find a highly rewarding film and a budding directorial talent.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Interview - Movie Review

The Interview (R) 112 Minutes C+
Botched Interview

Starring Seth Rogen, James Franco, Randall Park, Lizzy Caplan, Diana Bang, Timothy Simons and Reese Alexander  

All of the controversy aside, The Interview is a silly, undercooked Seth Rogen comedy- not a political satire.  There were enough funny moments to keep me interested, but this is not even close to his best work.  If not for the media frenzy surrounding this film I suspect it would have come and gone without much fanfare.  Recommended for curiosity seekers and those who enjoy Rogen's brand of bro humor.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Interstellar - Movie Review

Interstellar (PG-13) 169 mins  B
Overly Ambitious Space Opera Entertains, Saddens

Starring Matthew McConaughey, David Oyelowo, Anne Hathaway, Jessica Chastain, Wes Bentley, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Mackenie Foy, Topher Grace, Timothee Chalamet and Casey Affleck

Interstellar is an ambitious space odyssey, a film that I can't pretend to fully understand or explain. After the disappointment that was Alfonso CuarĂ³n's Gravity, I was afraid Interstellar would be more of the same.

Directed by Christopher Nolan (Inception, Memento and the The Dark Knight films), Interstellar is a surprisingly heartfelt film that is both epic and exhausting. At 169 minutes, the film provided plenty of food for thought, cool cinematography and science. Things got a little hokey at the end, but that's Hollywood for ya. All in all, it's a solid film.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gimmie Something Great Mr. Adams (Album Review)

Released: September 2014
Ryan Adams - Ryan Adams B-

Initially, I listened to this album while multitasking - email, laundry, cleaning, etc... After one not-so-attentive listen I generally thought the album was good, not great. It's mainstream Ryan Adams, which means it will appeal to the masses and leave me (who prefers Adams a little less subdued) torn. A couple of days later I re-visited the album, listened to it multiple times and gave it my undivided attention. My feelings didn't change- good album, not great.

This, his 14th solo album, feels surprisingly 1980ish with mixed results. During the first six or seven spins the album had a very bonfire, beer drinking, open-air, retro coolness- the kind of album someone might have cranked from their car stereo back in the day while a bunch of dudes (and a few hotties) stood around a smoky blaze drinking their sorrows away and back again. This self-titled, self-produced album sounds like a soundtrack for those times. Most of the songs are catchy and introspective; however, they just don't wear well after repeated listenings. Having been a Ryan Adams fan for as long as I have, I know he can sh*t out albums like this anytime. I guess I was hoping for something that was more III/IV and less Easy Tiger.

Favorite tracks: Gimme Something Good, Am I Safe and Tired of Giving Up

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - Movie Review

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (R) 119 mins B
The Comeback
Starring Michael Keaton, Naomi Watts, Andrea Riseborough, Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis and Amy Ryan.

During this time of year when the movie world is giving us their best, Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) is a solid black comedy, but not a great one. Frankly, I don't understand the hype surrounding this film. Michael Keaton is currently nominated for numerous awards for his performance. He is also the winner of the 2014 Chicago Film Critics Association Award for "Best Actor." Keaton is good, but Edward Norton Is better. Norton is the main reason why this Birdman works- he is the most interesting and unpredictable character in the film, he makes everyone else better.

Riggan Thomson (Keaton) was once a Hollywood A-Lister. He was the star of a popular superhero film franchise. But, Riggan walked away from the gig a decade ago and has struggled to find success ever since. Now he is trying to revive his fading career on Broadway as financier, director and star of a Raymond Carver play. Our protagonist has family problems, relationship problems, ego problems, and super powers... all of which is a blessing and a curse. This film is entertaining and offbeat. But, it never quite takes flight like I hoped it might.

Bonus Review 
Happy Christmas (R) 82 mins A-
What happens when the unwanted houseguest is family...

Starring Anna Kendrick, Melanie Lynskey, Mark Webber, Lena Dunham and Joe Swanberg

Let me say upfront, you're probably not going to like this film as much as I did... and that's okay.  This low budget, talky independent film starring two of my favorite leading ladies, Lynskey and Dunham, is my kind of film. It's a smart, no frills indie in which I could see myself as any of the main characters.  The dialogue is mostly improvised and maybe that's why everything here seemed so natural.

Jenny (Kendrick), is a twenty-something party girl who just broke up with her boyfriend.  In need of an escape and a new beginning Jenny moves in with her brother (Swanberg), his wife (Lynskey), and their two-year-old son. After striking up a new relationship with the babysitter/pot dealer, Jenny begins to head down a path of selfishness and irresponsibility that threatens to break-up the family.

This dramedy was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize in the "U.S. Dramatic Competition" at Sundance 2014. Anna Kendrick was also nominated for "Best Comedic Actress" by the Women Film Critics Circle earlier this month. 

The film had a limited theatrical release during this past summer and a home/DVD release last month.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

I Don't Go To Sleep, But I Go To Bed (Album Review)

Released: Dec 2014
Content Nausea - Parquet Courts (as Parkay Quarts) - C+

I love Light up Gold and Sunbathing Animal. I like Content Nausea. The latest from PCs was recorded in two weeks on a four-track tape machine. There are some gems here; but, it has also been a hard listen. After five or six spins my favorites include:

Everyday It Starts
Content Nausea
Pretty Machines
Uncast Shadow Of A Southern Myth

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Young Tells a Story and Changes His Tone (Album Review)

Released: Nov 2014
Storytone - Neil Young B

Neil Young has quietly released one of the most sentimental and understated albums of the year. A deluxe two-disc set featuring a 92-piece orchestra and choir on one disc, and a stripped down solo version of the same songs on the other. Speaking mostly of the stripped down solo disc, these songs feels strikingly genuine and intimate. Rolling Stone music critic will Hermes wrote, " Neil Young's only style is doing what he wants, with zero fucks given about anyone's co-sign." Hermes is spot on in his assessment and I can't help but feel that sentiment shining through as I listen to Storytone.

Favorite tracks: Plastic Flowers (Solo), Who’s Gonna Stand Up (Solo), I Want To Drive My Car (Solo), Tumbleweed (Solo) and I’m Glad I Found You (Solo).

Monday, December 1, 2014

Epiphanies: Past, Present, and Future (Book Review)

Thirty-One Octets: Incantations and Meditations - Steven Wingate B+
Published: October 2014

Steven Wingate's latest book, Thirty-One Octets: Incantations and Meditations, is an ambitious poetic narrative that continued to resonate long after the last octet.  We have all been told never to judge a book by its cover, but consciously or subconsciously that's exactly what I did with Wingate's latest effort. I asked several of my friends to describe the book's cover in one word. Without hesitation, they said things like "epic," "biblical," "supplication," and "Jesusy."

My opinion of religion is skeptical at best, but I am always fascinated by what people believe and why. Steven Wingate is one of literature's best kept secrets; yet, I admit I still approached Thirty-One Octets with caution because the cover looked "Jesusy."

The first four octets peaked my curiosity, but didn't necessarily grab me. I put the book down and went to bed. The next morning I continued reading where I left off the night before, beginning with "Octet In Great Praise of Misunderstanding." Almost immediately there was a sea change. I was reading without pretense and the poems surprised and engaged me. I finished the book during that sitting and re-read my favorite octets straightaway.

Despite the repetition of thirty-one octets, the form never wore out its welcome. The more I contemplated these pieces, the more enlightened and entertained I became. It didn't matter whether or not these octets were about the babel of humanity, the babel within one's self, or the Tower of Babel, Wingate's commentary is compelling, vital and humorous. It almost felt like a memoir in thirty-one octets.

My favorites include:
Octet for Future Medicines, as Yet Uninvented
Octet to the Temple of My Body
Octet in Memory of My Proletarian Hypocrisy
Octet of Distorted Affection for Paris
Octet of Praise and Animosity for New York
Octet for Angel City
Octet of Supplication to the Muse