Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Movie Reviews: Great Actresses Highlight Sublime 'Maps to the Stars' and 'Deux Jours, Une Nuit'

At this year's Cannes Film Festival there were two actresses who generated a lot of buzz to win the best actress prize: Julianne Moore as a self-destructing actress in "Maps to the Stars" and Marion Cotillard as a woman trying to get her job back in "Deux Jours, Une Nuit (Two Days, One Night)". Moore walked away with the prize, but who's to say one performance was truly better than the other?

These are two different roles in two vastly different movies and the end result are two great films with strong empowered women driving them to greatness.

Maps to the Stars (2014, directed by David Cronenberg. U.S.A./Canada, English, Color, 112 minutes) No one can make a film more unpredictable and fluid than Cronenberg, and "Maps to the Stars" proves it. In this ensemble piece we follow the dark side of the Hollywood system. Julianne Moore is the driving force here as the washed-up, Lindsay Lohan-esque character Havana Segrand, who's trying to revamp her career. In her aura is her psychologist (John Cusack), his teenage movie star (Evan Bird), a limo driver (Robert Pattinson) and a recent L.A. transplant named Agatha (Mia Wasikowska) with mysterious motives.

All of the stars align in this unpredictable and totally engaging piece about the Hollywood machine, thanks in great part to Bruce Wagner's script and Julianne Moore's tip-top performance. Never have I seen Moore act like such a Hollywood wreck, and I enjoyed it so much. From an actress who has played so many dramatic characters, here she does a 180 as a partying, completely unstable product of overindulgence and a lack of  talent... like Lindsay Lohan. Equal parts haunting, funny and sad, "Maps to the Stars" balances a lot of characters and storylines flawlessly and with delicate care to each. You may not like some of the characters, but who in Hollywood is ever likable? At least this tries to explain it.

Rating: A


Monday, December 29, 2014

Movie Reviews: 'Mr. Turner', 'A Most Violent Year' Are Beautifully Dark

Here are two beautiful period pieces, though the images they paint are not the most glamorous at times. "Mr. Turner" is your classic epic bio-pic, taking place in 1800's England, "A Most Violent Year" takes place during the turbulent early 80's in New York City. Both films are sublime, gritty and oozing with great atmosphere.

Mr. Turner (2014, directed by Mike Leigh. U.K., France, Germany. In English, Color, 150 minutes) Timothy Spall plays the titular seascape painter J.M.W. Turner in Mike Leigh's wonderfully decadent film. Thanks to Leigh's direction, "Mr. Turner" is a fly-by-its-seam look at the man with elaborate and unconventional ways of drawing a scene. Surprisingly brisk at 150 minutes, "Mr. Turner" has the scale of being a great miniseries but is effectively condensed to a palatable product. Stunning performances by all and a beautiful, not conventionally structured look biography.

Rating: A-

Monday, December 22, 2014

Movie Reviews: Xmas Day Releases 'Big Eyes' and 'Into the Woods'

Meryl Streep heads 'Into the Woods' on Christmas
Edit: 12/23, 9 p.m.
With "The Interview" now only playing in some 200 theaters this holiday season, moviegoers will have their fair share of movies to see on Christmas Day. From the film adaptation of the musical "Into the Woods", to the true story of a WWII vet in "Unbroken:, there is bound to be something for everyone at the box office.

In addition to the aforementioned wide releases, "The Imitation Game" will be expanding, "Big Eyes" will open to a few hundred theaters and "Mr. Turner" will open in select cities.

Big Eyes (2014, directed by Tim Burton. U.S.A., English, Color, 106 minutes) Margaret Keane, known for her portraits of children with big eyes, is the figure behind the aptly titled film directed by fan Tim Burton. Amy Adams stars as the painter and Christoph Waltz is her charismatic con of a husband, Walter. The film focuses on Walter parading around as the painter of the big eyed children, while Margaret quietly goes along with the plan... for 10 years. Not a great film, but it has its charms, mainly in the sumptuous production values and all of the paintings of the doe-eyed children we see. Waltz is extremely annoying as he overacts every comedic/dramatic moment, and Adams is endearing as always.

Rating: C

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Music Review: New Madonna Singles Sound Promising

After a few studio demos leaked from her upcoming 13th album Rebel Heart, Madonna took it upon herself to release six studio cuts from the album.

Accounting for about a third of the 19 tracks on the set, the release of six songs comes after the Queen of Pop called the leak of the demos as "artistic rape" and "terrorism".

From the sounds of it, Madonna is making a much better album than her last one, MDNA, with more club fun and the ability to keep growing as one of the staples of modern pop.

The songs were made available on YouTube, iTunes, and other online music stores and streaming services.

Rebel Heart goes on sale on March 10.

Living for Love- What was supposed to be the first official single released in February, "Living for Love" is a typical Madonna pop song, full of love, spunk and fun. A nice blend of modern club music and a throwback to 90's pop (i.e. Robin S., Cece Peniston, Corona).

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

'Saving Private Ryan,' 'Willy Wonka' Added to National Film Registry

Childhood classic "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" and teenage comedy "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" were among the 25 films announced Tuesday morning that have been selected for preservation in the Library of Congress' National Film Registry.

Other notable titles include the Oscar-winning "Saving Private Ryan", the stoner comedy "The Big Lebowski" the original "House of Wax" from 1953 starring Vincent Prize - the first full-length 3D feature film backed by a major studio - and the demonic horror film "Rosemary's Baby".

The most recent film selected was the 2004 documentary called "10 Lakes" which shows 10-minute shots of 13 different American lakes showing landscaping as a "function" of time". The shortest film selected is the 2-minute animated short "Luxo Jr." by John Lasseter during Pixar's infancy in 1986. The tale of desk lamps would go on to be Pixar's iconic title sequence at the beginning of films.

Films selected range from the years 1913-2004.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Academy Announces Eligible Scores and Songs for 2014 Oscar

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Friday the 114 original scores and 79 original songs in contention as the best in 2014 film for the Oscars. Members of the music branch will select the the five nominees in each category and will be revealed on Jan. 15.

While nominees for best original score are listed on a ballot by the branch's voting members, picking the original score nominees is more involved.

"During the nominations process, all voting members of the music branch will receive a Reminder List of works submitted in the category and a DVD copy of the song clips.  Members will be asked to watch the clips and then vote in the order of their preference for not more than five achievements in the category," states an academy press release.

These are the following eligible songs and scores as listed in press releases form the academy.

Original Song
"It's On Again" from "The Amazing Spider-Man 2"
"Opportunity" from "Annie"
"Lost Stars" from "Begin Again"
"Grateful" from "Beyond the Lights"
"Big Eyes" from "Big Eyes"
"Immortals" from "Big Hero 6"
"The Apology Song" from "The Book of Life"
"I Love You Too Much" from "The Book of Life"
"The Boxtrolls Song" from "The Boxtrolls"
"Quattro Sabatino" from "The Boxtrolls"
"Ryan's Song" from "Boyhood"
"Split The Difference" from "Boyhood"
"No Fate Awaits Me" from "The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them"
"Brave Souls" from "Dolphin Tale 2"
"You Got Me" from "Dolphin Tale 2"
"All Our Endless Love" from "Endless Love"
"Let Me In" from "The Fault in Our Stars"
"Not About Angels" from "The Fault in Our Stars"
"Until The End" from "Garnet's Gold"
"It Just Takes A Moment" from "Girl on a Bicycle"
"Last Stop Paris" from "Girl on a Bicycle"
"Ordinary Human" from "The Giver"
"I'm Not Gonna Miss You" from "Glen Campbell...I'll Be Me"
"Find A Way" from "The Good Lie"
"Color The World" from "The Hero of Color City"
"The Last Goodbye" from "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies"
"Chariots" from "The Hornet's Nest"
"Follow Me" from "The Hornet's Nest"
"Something To Shoot For" from "Hot Guys with Guns"
"For The Dancing And The Dreaming" from "How to Train Your Dragon 2"
"Afreen" from "The Hundred-Foot Journey"
"Yellow Flicker Beat" from "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1"
"Heart Like Yours" from "If I Stay"
"I Never Wanted To Go" from "If I Stay"
"Mind" from "If I Stay"
"Everything Is Awesome" from "The Lego Movie"
"Call Me When You Find Yourself" from "Life Inside Out"
"Coming Back To You" from "Life of an Actress The Musical"
"The Life Of An Actress" from "Life of an Actress The Musical"
"Sister Rust" from "Lucy"
"You Fooled Me" from "Merchants of Doubt"
"Million Dollar Dream" from "Million Dollar Arm"
"Spreading The Word/Makhna" from "Million Dollar Arm"
"We Could Be Kings" from "Million Dollar Arm"
"A Million Ways To Die" from "A Million Ways to Die in the West"
"Way Back When" from "Mr. Peabody & Sherman"
"America For Me" from "A Most Violent Year"
"I'll Get You What You Want (Cockatoo In Malibu)" from "Muppets Most Wanted"
"Something So Right" from "Muppets Most Wanted"
"We're Doing A Sequel" from "Muppets Most Wanted"
"Mercy Is" from "Noah"
"Seeds" from "Occupy the Farm"
"Grant My Freedom" from "The One I Wrote for You"
"The One I Wrote For You" from "The One I Wrote for You"
"Hal" from "Only Lovers Left Alive"
"Shine" from "Paddington"
"Still I Fly" from "Planes: Fire & Rescue"
"Batucada Familia" from "Rio 2"
"Beautiful Creatures" from "Rio 2"
"Poisonous Love" from "Rio 2"
"What Is Love" from "Rio 2"
"Over Your Shoulder" from "Rudderless"
"Sing Along" from "Rudderless"
"Stay With You" from "Rudderless"
"Everyone Hides" from "St. Vincent"
"Why Why Why" from "St. Vincent"
"Glory" from "Selma"
"The Morning" from "A Small Section of the World"
"Special" from "Special"
"Gimme Some" from "#Stuck"
"The Only Thing" from "Third Person"
"Battle Cry" from "Transformers: Age of Extinction"
"Miracles" from "Unbroken"
"Summer Nights" from "Under the Electric Sky"
"We Will Not Go" from "Virunga"
"Heavenly Father" from "Wish I Was Here"
"So Now What" from "Wish I Was Here"
"Long Braid" from "Work Weather Wife"
"Moon" from "Work Weather Wife"

Friday, December 5, 2014

Sam Smith, Beyonce, Pharrell Lead Nominations for 57th Annual Grammy Awards

Beyonce, Pharrell Williams and Sam Smith lead the pack with six nominations each for the 57th Annual Grammy Awards.

English singer-songwriter Smith earned nominations in all four categories in the general field. His freshmen set In The Lonely Hour earned nominations for album of the year and best pop album, with record and song of the year nominations for his breakout song "Stay With Me (Darkchild version)" and a pop solo performance nod as well.

The crooner also earned a best new artist nomination.

When nominations start to be announced in about 20 of the 82 categories from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. EST,  Beyonce only heard her name announced once, for best urban contemporary album for her self-titled set Beyonce. But when the full list came out at 2 p.m., she earned four more nods: best R&B performance and R&B song for "Drunk In Love", best surround sound album for Beyonce and best music film for "Beyonce & Jay-Z: On The Run Tour".

When album of the year was announced during the Grammy Christmas concert on CBS that night, she earned her sixth nomination of the year in that category. This is her second nomination in the category for her own work after I am... Sasha Fierce in 2010 - she was nominated the year after as a featured artist on Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster.

After this year's slate of nominations, Beyonce is now the most nominated women ever in Grammy history with 52 individual nods. Dolly Parton now has the second most with 46.

Williams, who was nominated for seven Grammys last year, winning four, earned three nominations for album of the year - as a featured artist on Beyonce and Ed Sheeran's X, and for his solo album Girl. He contends for urban contemporary album for his set, and also pop solo performance and music video for "Happy (Live)".

Aside from Smith's In The Lonely Hour, the only other album of the year nominee Williams didn't contribute to is Beck's Morning Phase. Williams won this category last year as a featured artist on Daft Punk's Random Access Memories.

Coming up quick in the nominations tally is another best new artist nominee, Aussie rapper Iggy Azalea. She earned two nominations for her hit song "Fancy": record of the year and best pop duo/group performance. Her album The New Classic earned a nomination for best rap album.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Upper Darby Student Headed Back to the Grammys

Immanuel Wilkins
An Upper Darby High School senior will be headed to the Grammys for a second year in a row.

Immanuel Wilkins was selected yet again to play the alto sax with the Grammy Foundation’s Grammy Camp- Jazz Session band, a program that selects over 30 student jazz musicians from across the country to perform and learn with each other and prolific musicians for the week leading up to the 57th Annual Grammy Awards.

Among the perks that come with the program include attending the biggest night in music as guests of the Recording Academy on Feb. 8.

Wilkins, 17, is the only student from Pennsylvania to be selected for this year’s camp, and one of only four from last year to be selected again.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Final 2015 Grammy Nomination Predictions

Here are my final predictions in a select group of categories. Nominations will be announced on the morning of Dec. 5 for all categories except album of the year, which will be announced later that night during A Very Grammy Christmas Special on CBS at 9 p.m.

Album of the Year
Beyonce, Beyonce
Frozen: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, Various Artists
Lazaretto, Jack White
Platinum, Miranda Lambert
St. Vincent, St. Vincent

1000 Forms of Fear, Sia
In The Lonely Hour, Sam Smith

Record of the Year
"Am I Wrong," Nico & Vinz
"Chandelier," Sia
"Happy," Pharrell Williams
"Let it Go," Idina Menzel
"Stay With Me," Sam Smith

"Drunk in Love," Beyonce f/ Jay-Z
"Fancy," Iggy Azalea

Song of the Year
"Chandelier," Songwriters: Sia Furler, Jesse Shatkin
"Happy," Songwriter: Pharrell Williams
"Let It Go," Songwriters: Kristen Anderson-Lopez, Robert Lopez
"Sing," Songwriter: Ed Sheeran
"Stay With Me," Songwriters: Sam Smith, James Napier and William Phillips

Best New Artist
Aloe Blacc
Ariana Grande
Sam Smith

Movie Review: 'The Imitation Game' Imitates Many Like it Before

The Benedict Cumberbatch Club decrypts German messages in "The Imitation Game"
Weinstein Company
The Imitation Game (2014, Directed by Morten Tyldum. U.K./U.S.A., English, Color, 114 minutes) As I headed into the theater to watch this film I did not plan to like it. From one viewing of the trailer a couple of months back I knew it was going to be a run-of-the-mill historic cliche about winning the war against the Nazis. When I left the theater, I got exactly that, but with an (unnecessary) brief look at the history of LGBT rights in the U.K., and a stupidly forced love story. It was everything I was expecting and more... and not in a good way.

This is the true story of a group of codebreakers at Bletchley Park in England assigned to decipher German messages from a machine called the Enigma. The eccentric and arrogantly annoying Alan Turing heads the group who would eventually end the war by at least two years because of their successful efforts. Their accomplishments should be heralded, but not this film.

While critic reviews are positive and audiences at film fests give it its top honors, this cliche-ridden film is nothing different than what has been shown over and over again.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Movie Review: Good Performances Propel Uneven 'Foxcatcher'

Steve Carell as John du Pont in "Foxcatcher".                              Sony Pictures Classic
Foxcatcher (2014, directed by Bennett Miller. U.S.A., English, color, 134 minutes) The trouble with making a movie out of a real event is that there are so many facts and stories that can be used for dramatic license and skew reality. Yes, I know movies are a work of fiction, but it doesn't mean you should sacrifice a completely true story for the sake of art.

This is my biggest problem with "Foxcatcher", a true story about John du Pont and his manipulatively obsessive relationships with Olympic gold medalists Mark and Dave Schultz, an obsession that led to the murder of Dave, a two-day standoff at the estate, and the incarceration of du Pont. The media frenzy surrounding these events remain in the annals of Delaware County history.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Book Review: Mark Schultz's 'Foxcatcher' Missing Real Life Drama

Dutton Publishing
There have been a number of books and even more articles written about the murder of Olympic gold medalist Dave Schultz by millionaire John du Pont, and a new book by Schultz’s brother is another one added to the pile.

Mark Schultz’s “Foxcatcher: The True Story of My Brother’s Murder, John Du Pont’s Madness, and the Quest for Olympic Gold,” co-written by David Thomas, tells his side of what happened until that fatal day in January 1996 when his brother was killed. The sad part is, this simply-written book shows that Mark’s story doesn’t live up to the meticulously researched stories about du Pont written before now.

Schultz’s book is a breezy 300 pages that spends the first half recalling his growing up with Dave and the strain of having divorced parents and moving frequently. Into his high school and college years we’re treated to a lot of rapid fire passages on his matches, including his first NCAA Championship, and, later, his 1984 Olympic gold medal win and 1985 World Championship.

What I’m sure most readers will be interested in is the book’s second half, which focuses on working with du Pont. This part served as the basis for the upcoming film “Foxcatcher.” The biggest disappointment is that even though du Pont’s “madness” is part of the book’s title, it encompasses only about 60 pages worth of personal encounters with the eventual murderer. Asked by du Pont to be an assistant coach for Villanova University’s new wrestling program, Schultz frequently mentions his boss’s ways of using his money to buy people, and how manipulative he is. He was one of those people.

There are few stories that truly show the madness the title claims, and what is seen in the film - based on Mark's story/book - shows even more of the bizarre behavior than what is in these pages. The madness we read about is how mentally damaging du Pont was to Schultz, making him lose his passion for wrestling and even giving up in the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul so as not to give du Pont the pleasure of success by “coaching” a two-time gold medalist.

“Foxcatcher” is more an autobiography than a tale of a man grieving for his brother. The last line of the book reads “I miss you, Dave” and it’s an emotional moment, probably the most emotional in the book. In a book dominated with pages of wrestling recaps and the struggles of being an amateur wrestler, the last line makes up for the lack of sibling love and rivalry you would expect.

For those who are somewhat familiar with the story will find “Foxcatcher” an interesting view on a person who lived under the shadow of his brother, and under the manic aura of an eccentric millionaire. This book seems like another attempt for Mark to climb out from under the dominant figures in his life and stand proudly on his own, I just wish he had a better story to tell.

“Foxcatcher,” by Mark Schultz and David Thomas, will be released by Dutton on Nov. 18. 320 pages, $26.95 hardcover, $12.99 e-book.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Movie Review: 'The Theory of Everything' Explains Nothing, Worst Film of the Year

The Theory of Everything (2014, directed by James Marsh. U.K, English, color, 124 minutes) The above poster for "The Theory of Everything" states that it's the "incredible" story of Jane and Stephen Hawking. Perhaps the story of their 30-year marriage is incredible, but you sure won't see it in this pile of garbage that's being marketed as an uplifting story. This movie, quite frankly, is bullshit.

When you tackle a true story, especially one that includes one of the great physicists in the world, there should be a delicate and sincere touch that makes its delivery less like a cheap Hallmark movie and more like a deeply engrossing and enlightening experience. This film is like a combination of  "My Left Foot" and "A Beautiful Mind", but deletes any sort of sincerity those films presented. I'm not saying the aforementioned are the greatest in cinema history, they're just better portrayals of those afflicted with a handicap or mental disease to accomplish greatness.

Movie Review: 'Force Majeure' Piles on Dark Laughs For Vacation

The avalanche that started it all in "Force Majeure"
Force Majeure (2014, directed by Ruben Östlund. Sweden, in Swedish and English, color, 118 minutes) I saw "Force Majeure", Sweden's submission for the best foreign language film Oscar consideration, during a packed screening as part of the Philadelphia Film Festival this year. It was one of many sellouts during this year's fest and it's easy to see why.

Tomas, his wife, Ebba, and their two children take to the French Alps for a five-day vacation. The first day goes off without a hitch. Plenty of skiing on the beautifully photographed slopes, a hilarious photo opportunity on the mountain, and cranky kids. You know, it's vacation. Then on the second day, the family has lunch outside at the hotel's restaurant when a controlled avalanche happens, but it looks to get too close and everyone starts running, even Tomas. While Ebba protects the kids as a cloud of snow blankets the deck, Tomas grabs his glove and phone and runs like hell.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

'Foxcatcher' Gets Philadelphia Premiere

(From L) Director Bennett Miller, Nancy Schultz and Anthony Michael Hall at the red carpet premiere of "Foxcatcher" at the Prince Music Theater.
It was a red carpet affair for the Philadelphia premiere of the film “Foxcatcher” Monday night.
The Prince Music Theater hosted the premiere of the award-winning film, with director Bennett Miller and star Anthony Michael Hall in attendance.

Set primarily in Delaware County, “Foxcatcher” is the story of millionaire John du Pont, played by Steve Carell, and his relationships with Olympic wrestling athletes Mark (Channing Tatum) and Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo) as they prepare for the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games on du Pont’s Newtown Square estate.

The triangular story of power turned fatal when du Pont shot and killed Dave at his house on the estate on Jan. 26, 1996. Du Pont was convicted of third degree murder but mentally ill, and died in prison in 2010.

“This whole adventure began about eight years ago when a stranger approached me at an event in a store and handed me an envelope that contained newspaper clippings I was, somehow, not familiar with. Immediately I knew I was going to make this film,” said Miller at the premiere.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

23rd Philadelphia Film Festival: Winners and Day 10

Even though the festival ran through Sunday, winners for the festival's 23rd turn were announced on Friday night before the closing night screening of "Wild".

The anonymous slate of jurors awarded the British production "The Duke of Burgundy" its grand jury prize in the narrative category. The film is about a young girl who becomes a housekeeper to a wealthy amateur lepidopterist and the sexual relationship that develops. The French ghetto drama "Girlhood" won the special jury prize and Yann Demange won the director gong for "'71", about a new soldier left behind in the turbulent streets of Ireland during the Troubles.
'The Duke of Burgundy'.

"The Overnighters" won for best documentary and one of the most talked about films of the festival, "The Tribe", won the archie award for best first feature.

"Crescendo! The Power of Music" won the Pinkenson Award for local feature.

The audience award will be announced after the festival.

To me the list of winners represented PFF's (unintentional) theme this year- stories told a million times before PFF are all of a sudden new and fresh just because we're seeing these films the first time.

Nice try, but originality was barely evident during this year's festival, and it shows in the prize winners.

As I digress, only to be amped up later in this post, I had only one more day of screenings that I attended, day 10 (Saturday). While I wasn't really looking forward to anything, I figured I'd make the most out of my badge.

Read about the festival's first four days here.

Read about festival days 7 & 8 here.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Young Adult author Ellen Hopkins Stops by UDHS

New York Times Bestseller Ellen Hopkins signs a book for UDHS junior Emily Miller
After hosting Tina Fey and Anderson Cooper in recent months, Upper Darby High School added young adult author Ellen Hopkins to its list of celebrity sightings.
The New York Times Bestselling author spoke to about 40 students in the school’s library Monday afternoon about the writing process, future projects and her career.
 “(Young adult) is where I belong as a writer,” said Hopkins, who has written, non-fiction children’s books, adult fiction and poetry as well.
Hopkins has been the source of controversy with her signature one-word titled books, including “Crank” and Burned”, with the former being banned in some schools because of its frank depiction of drug use and sexuality among teenagers. The same novel has also been required reading for schools for the same reasons.
She said of the controversial nature of her books, which have tackled teenage suicide, prostitution and rape, that these are problems that parents don’t want to know “exist.”
“I’m a staunch defender of your right to read,” she said, encouraging teenagers and parents to read provocative books together to have a discussion about the issues books address.
Hopkins later signed copies of her books for students who are big fans of her work, including junior Emily Miller, who said the author’s “ballsy” style has influenced her.
“It’s dark and twisted, but hopeful. I like stuff like that,” Miller said.
Miller said she’s currently writing a novel about an abnormal household life and poverty, while also incorporating poetry into it.
“(Writing) doesn’t have to be happy and nice all the time” she said.              
Hopkins is currently on a book tour for her recently released novel, “Rumble”.

23rd Philadelphia Film Festival: Days 7 and 8

It was a dreary, miserable day before I went downtown for a couple of evening showings on the festival's 7th day. I had skipped screenings on days 5 and 6 because I have a legit job where film criticism isn't my primary focus. It's a nice hobby, though.

(Read about days 1-4 of the festival here)

Anywho, one of the films I was most looking forward to, and the one most difficult to squeeze into my schedule, was this year's Cannes jury prize winner "Goodbye to Language" - which tied with "Mommy", another PFF selection. Later on I would be checking out the German film "Stations of the Cross", and while the first few days were full of disappointment, day 7 was a total highlight.

Day 7- Visual Stimulants

The rain was a problem. Parking downtown can be a total asshole, and with the rain I figured I was going to be showered with no possibilities. Luckily, I found a spot about two blocks over with only 7 minutes before the screening started for "Goodbye to Language". I got a good seat and honkered down for whatever the hell was about to come my way.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

23rd Philadelphia Film Festival: Days 1-4

It's here! The 23rd Philadelphia Film Festival is finally underway, and with a good slate of films from all over the world.

The over 100 selections have already had people lining up outside the theaters with their badges and tickets eagerly waiting to see some of the critically acclaimed films that have already made the rounds at international film festivals, from "Birdman" to "Mommy" and foreign language film Oscar hopefuls in "Force Majeure" and "The Way He Looks".

With so much to see, the Philadelphia Film Society, which coordinates the festival, proudly touts that during the 11-day festival you will "see something you'll never forget". Whether these be films that are great or so bad that you'll never forget it, PFF has a line-up that will guarantee some hits and definitely some misses.

Seeing as this was my first time attending a real festival with a badge - last year I bought tickets for four films - I was ready to start binge watching with long days and tons of experiences. There's nothing like spending a day at the movies seeing three or more films in a day. I thought it would be extremely tiring, but it was pretty enjoyable, even when every film you see is foreign and you have to stay awake to read the subtitles.

As I was highly anticipating many films, I soon found that only three days of movie watching I was watching a whole bunch of new movies with tired, redundant stories that brought nothing new to cinema. (Scroll down to the bottom for ratings)

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Movie Review: "Birdman" Soars High on Talent

Riggan (Michael Keaton) and Mike (Edward Norton) square off in "Birdman".

Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014, directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu. USA, English, color, 119 minutes) Living in a time where thoughtless superhero action moves dominate the box office, is there any hope for those actors who have become icons after their starring role in the franchise ends?

Imagine Robert Downey Jr. 20 years from now after the Iron Man franchise is over and he's trying to break back into the acting world with a serious performance. Will he always be remembered as being Iron Man, or will people think he has real acting chops?

This is the basis for the comedy "Birdman", starring Michael Keaton as a washed-up actor trying to revive his acting career by writing, starring and directed an adaptation of Raymond Carver's "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" for Broadway.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Movie Review: 'Leaving Circadia' is a Charmer

Evan Mathew Weinstein and Larisa Polonsky are love interests in "Leaving Circadia" (Courtesy of Facebook)
If you've left college in the past 10 years (graduated or otherwise), it's quite possible some of you have been "privy" to that sudden realization that the parties are over and it's time to join the real world.

You've studied for four years, or longer, getting a piece of paper saying you have accumulated enough knowledge in an area of study that you can use it in the work place. Or maybe college wasn't for you and now you're struggling to find a good job that doesn't need that (un)necessary bachelor's degree.

Then all of a sudden people you went to high school and/or college with are getting married and having kids and you're just like "huh, what have I been doing with my life?" And the next thing you know you're 30 and you don't know what you've done lately.

"Leaving Circadia" explores this post-college rut.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Delco Resident's Film to Open FirstGlance Film Festival in Philadelphia

Drexel Hill actor and producer Drew Seltzer will be bringing his acclaimed film to the Philadelphia area for the first time next weekend.
“Leaving Circadia”, executive produced by Seltzer, will be the opening night selection at the FirstGlance Film Festival at the Franklin Institute on Oct. 17.
“I’m hoping we’re gonna get a big turnout,” said Seltzer. “It always helps when you’re screening in a town that you’re from to get that kind of support.”
Primarily set in a Brooklyn brownstone apartment building, the light-hearted comedy follows a group of late 20-somethings who seem stuck in a post-college rut dealing with work, relationships and life’s new responsibilities.

(Read my review here)

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Movie Review: 'Gone Girl' MIssing Any Sort of Originality

Gone Girl (2014, directed by David Fincher. USA, English, color, 147 minutes) As I sat and watched "Gone Girl" my feelings toward it went from intrigue to annoyance in about the first 10 minutes. Not knowing what the story was about aside from the straightforward title I was hoping the story would be as interesting as its vague title. Boy, was I wrong.

Directed by David Fincher and written by Gillian Flynn, based on her 2012 bestselling novel, "Gone Girl" throws out any conventional sense of an atmospheric thriller, like Fincher's own "Zodiac", and gives us a film full of standard Lifetime cliches with a lot more bloody violence. OK, there's atmosphere, just no thrills.

On the day of their wedding anniversary, Nick (Ben Affleck) has come home to discover his wife Amy (Rosamund Pike) is missing. After just one day, media attention on the case is full throttle with a tough-as-nails cop (Kim Dickens) trying to peg the apparent murder on Nick, and the public already throwing stones at the charmingly apathetic husband.

What progresses in a glacial two-and-a-half film is a standard exercise of what happens when a bored, rich white woman has nothing better to do with her time than concoct a whole mess of a plan that in the end served no purpose at all.

It may have an all-star cast and Fincher at the helm, but it doesn't take away from the fact that this is material perfect for Lifetime. The man is always bad and the woman is always good. There's nothing to get caught up in here, just waiting for the inevitable conclusion and seeing the cookie-cutter Lifetime characters stick to form (like the female cop who seems to be on a mission to make sure Nick did it).

One standout was Tyler Perry, who plays a celebrity-driven attorney representing Affleck's character. He provides some good laughs, and you know it's a bad film when he's the best part of it.

Save your time. Even a good director like Fincher can't save this run-of-the-mill story of the made-up problems of rich white people.

Rating: D-

Friday, September 26, 2014

'Birdman' To Open 23rd Philadelphia FIlm Festival, Full Line-up Announced

The Philadelphia Film Society announced today the line-up for the 23rd Philadelphia Film Festival, opening with Oscar-hopeful "Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance" by Alejandro González Iñárritu, and closing with another Oscar-hopeful in the Reese Witherspoon vehicle, "Wild".

The festival runs from Oct. 16 to Oct. 26 in six venues around Center City. Here is the complete festival program guide.

Over 100 feature length and short films will be presented in this year's set, ranging from the Cannes- heavy Masters of Cinema selection, to local fair in narrative and documentary features.

"Beginning with our Opening Night screening of the highly acclaimed Birdman through October 26th, our diverse collection of films, everything from prestigious world cinema hits to exciting new American indies will entertain, challenge and truly highlight some of the best cinema of the year," said society executive director J. Andrew Greenblatt in a press release.

Marple Composer Brings Film Score to Delco

Marple resident Jason Borbidge will be bringing his first commissioned score to the area at the end of the month with a special screening of the film it was featured in.

Borbidge will host a one-time showing at the AMC Marple 10 on Sept. 29 of “It’s All About Me”, a documentary that explores the self-entitled nature of the “me” generation that features Borbidge’s first-ever work as a film composer. An official selection of the 2013 Ottawa International Film Festival, this wil lbe the first time “It’s All About Me” will be shown in Delaware County.

“It’s very emotional to show that to people I’m closest with,” said Borbidge of the film’s first screening for friends and family. “The one thing I can say is that feeling when you’re sitting in the theater watching it is indescribable. It’s just one of those moments you don’t figure. I would expect that same feeling with my closest friends and my parents”

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Track-by-Track Album Review: Maroon 5's Latest ,"V', Underwhelms.

Maroon 5's fifth album, appropriately named V, is a better album than their last effort, Overexposed, which played, awkwardly, with elements of SKA and reggae, but they're both still bad. The latest plays with more electronic beats but in a muted way, which is sometimes enjoyable and good. V is a regular Maroon 5 album as far as content, a set of love songs that verge on being bi-polar with how much singer Adam Levine wants someone then doesn't, and on songs that are forgettable as soon as their over.

Here's a track-by-track review of the standard edition release.

Maps- The album's lead single and opener is one of the best things on this album. The good lyrics are delivered beautifully by Levine's voice, yet this fun opener is a false start to another underwhelming album.

Animals- Levine howls on this stalkerish/creepy track about animal tendencies to (sexually) attack a girl. And that's enough of that...

It Was Always You- Slightly techno with scents of the electroc/pop funk of the '80s, "It Was Always You" isn't bad, but you forget why you like it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On Netflix: 'Happy Valley' is 2014's Best New Cop Show

Sarah Lancashire as Sgt. Catherine Cawood in the miniseries "Happy Valley".
West Yorkshire Police Sgt. Catherine Cawood (Sarah Lancashire) charges onto the screen in just the first three minutes of the entire miniseries with her backstory. She's 47, divorced and has two kids (one dead, and one who doesn't talk to her). She has one grandchild, and her sister, a recovering heroin-addict, lives with her. That's how she introduces herself to a man, and us, who's threatening to light himself on fire at a playground after a break-up with his girlfriend.

Sgt. Catherine Cawood is the tough, yet fragile lead character in "Happy Valley", a BBC One production named after an area of West Yorkshire known for its drug problem. But drugs isn't the focus of this series. Instead, it toes the line of a "Fargo" storyline, with an extortion/kidnapping plot and a likeable female officer at the center. Though, this story doesn't have as much humor peppered into it as the Oscar-winning film.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Nicki Minaj Releases "Anaconda" Video, Taylor Swift and Gaga announce new albums.

Nicki Minaj, who has slowly been releasing singles from her upcoming album Pinkprint released the ass-tastic video to her Sir Mix-A-Lot ripped second single "Anaconda". The video is a plethora of twerking that ends with a her teasing Drake while a giddy one-sided conversation about big asses by Minaj plays. Full of ass, gorgeous women, and good eye candy.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

New Power Rangers Movie Gets Release Date

It's morphing time... again!

Lionsgate and Saban Brands films have officially announced a July 22, 2016 release date for "Power Rangers", first Power Rangers film in the franchise to get a theatrical release in almost 20 years.

Although no cast or director have signed on to the project, Ashley Miller and Zach Stenz ("Thor", "X-Men: First Class") will write the screenplay.

Based on the long-running TV show about superhero teenagers who morph into rangers and fight off evil with superpowers, the original series "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" created two feature films: "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers: The Movie" in 1995 and 1997's "Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie".

Anderson Cooper to feature Upper Darby School District as Part of Research Study Feature

A special research project in the Upper Darby School District by a known psychologist will be the focus of a feature on an upcoming episode of "Anderson Cooper 360º".

Cooper will be interviewing Angela Duckworth at Upper Darby High School on September 2 to discuss her grit research. Duckworth, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, chose to include the school district in the feature due to its impact on the research.

District spokesperson Dana Spino said about 20 high school seniors will also be interviewed for the feature, which will take the better part of the day to shoot.

Shooting is closed to the public.

Grit is a word that Duckworth uses in conjunction with perseverance and long-term goals. The "grittier" someone is, the more likely they are to keep going toward their goals despite adversity. Less girtty individuals are more discouraged.

Duckworth's work with the school district started with a phone call from assistant superintendent Dan McGarry, who wanted a way to encourage a positive school climate in a district of 12,000 students. Initial research started in the middle and high schools. 

For her work, Duckworth was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant last year.

Monday, August 11, 2014

On Netflix: Feel Good Cheating with 'The Players'

Les Infidèles (The Players) (France, 2012, directed by Emmanuelle Bercot, Fred Cavayé, Alexandre Courtès, Jean Dujardin, Michel Hazanavicius, Jan Kounen, Eric Lartigau and Gilles Lellouche.  in French with English subtitles, color, 109 minutes)

Never has a film taken such a prominent look at the cheating ways of men as "Les Infidèles (The Players)" has. This collection of short films explores so many different kinds of men (all being played by Jean Dujardin and Gilles Lellouche) that you feel bad for them even though you know you shouldn't.

The film opens and closes with the story of Fred (Dujardin) and Greg (Lellouche), two buddies who love staying out late, sleeping around and pretending they're still in the prime of their lives while their wives stay at home. Mounting pressure from their wives find the two going to Las Vegas for one final screwfest before fully committing.

On Netflix: English 'Southcliffe' is Grueling Account of a Massacre

Sean Harris portrays Stephen Morton, a man who goes on a shooting rampage in "Southcliffe".        Channel 4
Southcliffe (England, 2013, miniseries/drama. English, color, four episodes.) In a world where every place seems like a target for tragedy, the English miniseries "Southcliffe" takes a look at its effects on a small market town.

Recently picked up by Netflix - who erroneously calls it a Netflix Original - for streaming, "Southcliffe" delves into long accounts of a small town's ways of coping with the deaths of 15 people and the wounding of 20 more after a man goes on a random shooting spree in the small Kent town. Clocking in at just over three hours with four episodes, this miniseries focuses on the pain and heartbreak of loss, and not the act of violence itself.

At the center of the story is Stephen Morton, a man who takes care of his mum and likes to go on long runs while wearing a lot of Army gear. He meets Chris Cooper, a soldier home from Afghanistan, with whom he eventually takes on a mission practice that plays more like a deadly cat-and-mouse game in the woods. When it's learned Stephen's not a former SAS soldier as was believed, Chris and his uncle beat him in the woods.

The next morning, the rampage begins.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Studio Releases New District 13 Citizens Posters for 'Mockingjay- Part 1'

With just over three months to go until the eagerly-anticipated "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1", Lionsgate has released six character posters of its District 13 inhabitants.

Leaders of the once uninhabitable District 13, President Coin, Beetee, Effie, Finnick, Haymithc and Plutarch, are all characterized against a bland concrete wall on the poster's far right side. District 13 was thought to be destroyed after the first rebellion in Suzanne Collins'  best-selling novels, best was revealed in the second book, "Catching Fire", that it will be used as a base to plan a second rebellion.

"The Hunger Games: Mockingjay- Part 1" will be released nationwide on November 21.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

'Game of Thrones' and ''Fargo' lead Emmy Nominations

When it comes to bloodshed, the more the merrier, especially when it means garnering the most Emmy nominations.

"Game of Thrones" and "Fargo" and its characters may have been showered in blood this year, but now they're getting showered with 19 and 18 Emmy nominations, respectively, in the drama and movie/miniseries fields. "Orange is the New Black," which had a bloody season one finale, was the laffer with the most nominations at 12.

In its biggest Emmy nomination haul to date, "Game of Thrones" contends once again for best drama series, with Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey earning supporting bids for their work, and Diana Rigg getting a repeat guest drama actress nod.

The drama slate includes previous winners "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men", previous nominees "Downton Abbey" and "House of Cards" and freshman series "True Detective". "Mad Men" has the least number of nods among drama series nominees with 8, not earning a single directing or writing nomination

"Fargo", using the Oscar-winning film of the same name as its source material, received the most nominations among miniseries contenders, landing lead actor bids for Martin Freeman and Billy Bob Thornton and supporting bids for Allison Tolman and Colin Hanks. Freeman will go head-to-head with his "Sherlock: The Last Vow" co-star Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead actor race, but competes in the supporting category for his turn in the movie.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Emmy Nominations Predictions

Courtesy of ATAS
With nominations coming up Thursday morning, here's a quick overview of what, and who, will be nominated for the TV industry's highest honors. While new shows are expected to make big breaks ("Orange is the New Black" and "True Detective'), some common standards should make comfortable returns ("Veep" and "Breaking Bad") but a few others may be all but forgotten ("Homeland" and "Mad Men").

Last year made a huge leap for online TV shows, like "House of Cards" reaping the first drama series nod for a online streaming service (Netflix). With "Orange is the New Black" garnering critical and commercial success on the streaming site, expect the dark prison comedy to be the site's first comedy series nominee as well, with a few acting nominees to boot.

Anywho, here's a list of what I think will be nominees come Thursday morning at 8:35 EST. The nomination announcement will be aired live on most broadcast networks and on the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences's website at www.emmys.com.

Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Modern Family
Orange is the New Black

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Tina Fey Hosting Special 'Mean Girls' Screening in UD on August 16

Writer Tina Fey with "Mean Girls" star Lindsay Lohan

Tickets for the “Mean Girls” screening in Upper Darby featuring Tina Fey are still on sale and at a cheaper price.
Prices for the August 16 screening now range between $40 and $100 for seats in the 1,600-seat Upper Darby Performing Arts Center. Lauren Yacina, director of marketing for the PAC, said there are plenty of seats still available.
Fey will also host a Q&A following the screening with Damian Holbrook, senior writer of TV Guide Magazine, who will be moderating the Q&A.
All proceeds from the screening will go toward a $300,000 sound system for the PAC.
A 1987 alumnus of Upper Darby High School and the summer stage program, Fey drew inspiration from her days as a student for the cult classic film, and also adapting elements from the book “Queen Bees and Wannabes”.
“Mean Girls” was a box office success when it was first released, grossing $129 million internationally and injected such iconic phrases like “fetch,” “boo, you whore” and the “plastics” into everyday conversation.
Tickets may be ordered online at www.udpac.org, over the phone at 610-622-1189, or in person at the PAC box office Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The screening starts  at 7:30 with the Q&A to follow.