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.