In Los Angeles, it has always been about the image you project in order to achieve "success." Whether this involves switching a facade here or telling a lie there is of no consequence. Los Angeles has never made any bones about what it is in this regard: the non-reality. This is, of course, just one of the many ways in which it is the polar opposite of New York City, which is, incidentally where the director and screenwriter of Nightcrawler, Dan Gilroy, spent much of the early 80s while hanging out in an abandoned synagogue with Madonna.

Gilroy's youth in Santa Monica is undoubtedly where his comfortableness with the character and geography of the L.A. stemmed, a city capable of spawning the likes of Lou Bloom (Jake Gyllenhaal), a part-time thief/part-time internet knowledge troller. After beating up (and perhaps killing) a private security guard one night, Bloom happens upon a car accident where he sees Joe Loder (Bill Paxton), a "freelance" videographer for the local news, preying on the scene like a vulture with his camera. Intrigued by what Loder does, Bloom asks him a few questions about what it takes, to which Loder can barely muster a guffaw. 

The epitome of a facade

The epitome of a facade

Capable enough to teach himself the ropes, Bloom steals a bike and pawns it for "store credit" so as to buy a camcorder and a police scanner. Soon after, he hires an employee, Rick (Riz Ahmed), desperate enough for money to take him up on his offer of thirty dollars a night. Together, the two actually prove to be quite the competition for Loder, who offers Bloom a job for his expanding outfit after Bloom catches footage of a crime scene (during which he positions the body himself in order to lend a more "artistic effect" to the video) before the police or anyone else gets there. Convinced of his own superiority, Bloom not so politely rejects Loder and goes about his usual business of what the Manson Family would call "creepy crawling." 

Creepy crawler

Creepy crawler

More concerned with winning the affections of the station's news director, Nina Romina (Rene Russo, Gilroy's wife), Bloom continues to show off his creepy(er) side with the threat of pulling his steady stream of morally bankrupt footage from her channel unless she agrees to see him romantically. Not wanting to risk losing her position as director with the renewal of her contract and sweeps coming up (all of which Bloom has none too gently reminded her of), Nina ultimately caters to his every whim in order to secure her livelihood. 

Unfortunately, she begins to expect too much of Bloom, who now has to contend with Loder's slew of manpower during sweeps week. As a subtext for the fact that Bloom is constantly striving to break into a new stratum, one that he was never designed to belong to, his partner says something particularly (and uncharacteristically) salient as they're stopped at a light near Bed, Bath & Beyond. He muses, "Bed, Bath & Beyond. Oh that's a good store." Thinking twice about the money it requires to shop there and what you must possess in order to require shopping there in the first place, Rick adds, "Making peace with what you don't have. That's what it's all about. Livin' with what you ain't got, right?" Bloom makes no response.

Grappling with issues

Grappling with issues

In order to sustain the quality of work he has provided thus far, Bloom goes past the brink of insanity to secure the ultimate in high-octane, macabre footage for the concluding segment of the story he has built around a murder in Granada Hills, resulting in bloodshed, legal quarrels and, obviously, high ratings. The nature of Los Angeles--cold, unforgiving, but with a welcoming exterior--takes over Bloom entirely. But how can you hold a man accountable to morality when he makes statements like, "I would never ask you to do anything that I wouldn't do myself."? To be sure, Nightcrawler has proven itself worthy of the robust arsenal of noirish films centered around L.A., Drive included. 

Desiree Akhavan was quickly dubbed the next Lena Dunham (a terrible insult that no one should be on the other side of) after appearing on Girls as one of Hannah's fellow students at the Iowa Writers Workshop. This was further solidified by the release of Appropriate Behavior, Akhavan's debut feature as both writer, director and actress. 

"I'm dead inside."

"I'm dead inside."

And yes, while there are certain parables between Appropriate Behavior and Girls (chiefly the whole emphasis on North Brooklyn life and the failed relationships associated with it), it is very distinctly Akhavan's own, and, moreover, a far better effort than Dunham's first feature film, Tiny Furniture. Unlike the anti-heroine in the latter, Shirin (Akhavan) is someone whose sense of purposelessness stems from her recent heartbreak after being dumped by her girlfriend, Maxine (Rebecca Henderson), as opposed to the ennui of white privilege. As a bisexual Iranian, Akhavan's post-breakup situation is compounded by her parents, who not so secretly wish she could be as put-together as her older brother, Ali (Arian Moayed).

In addition to moving out of Maxine's apartment and into a proverbial overpriced shit hole in Bushwick (another thing in common with Girls is putting a false spin on the "roughness" of the area), Shirin tries to distract herself with a new job teaching film to what she presumes will be high school students, but actually turns out to be a group of Park Slope five-year-olds. In between this and stalking Maxine at lesbian-related events, Shirin also tries to go back to the straight route by meeting up with a guy from OKCupid who tells her: "I do a stand-up/folk music hybrid act." This is just one in a series of "job"-related comments that are too absurd to take seriously, as with Shirin's roommate remarking on her boyfriend, "He's working with sandcastles and incorporating found objects into them."

Not quite as into the straight life

Not quite as into the straight life

It seems Akhavan is even open to parodying her own character with statement's like, "The other day while I was smoking weed I had a really good idea for a children's book" and "Jon's known throughout Bushwick for his vogueing." Her quest to find some sort of fulfillment and happiness to substitute her longing for Maxine lands Shirin in the apartment of a bizarre couple that has one of the most awkward attempts at a threesome with her, maybe ever. As Shirin has previously noted earlier in the movie, she has a gift for boner-killing, and uses her judgmental stare on the male in the couple to make him as uncomfortable with performing as possible.

Although, like Dunham's Aura in Tiny Furniture, Shirin never quite "figures it out," there is a sudden contentment or, rather, complacency with not knowing if she's going to be okay or not. For the moment, the ability to see Maxine across a subway platform and not want to vomit or cry is sufficient enough for her. 

Never Let Me Go, directed by Mark Romanek, known for his lush music video style (see: Madonna's "Bedtime Story" and Fiona Apple's "Criminal"), is not the sort of film you can go into and not come out of the other side somewhat changed--specifically, a greater number of tears streaming down your visage where once there were none. Based on Kazuo Ishiguro's 2005 novel, Alex Garland (who wrote 1996's The Beach) adapted the script into a sweeping emotional vista of longing, regret and helplessness.

Promotional poster for Never Let Me Go

Promotional poster for Never Let Me Go

Like so many other tragic tales, Never Let Me Go centers around a love triangle. Three friends relegated to an isolated boarding school called Hailsham in 1978, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Ruth (Keira Knightley) and Tommy (Andrew Garfield), are blissfully unaware of their sole purpose in life: to be donors for others. Set in an English dystopia (as I've always said, Britain is the go-to for dystopias--likely thanks to George Orwell), the average human lifespan has been expanded to at least one hundred years, in part due to the sect of the human race responsible for donating their organs. 

Tommy, on the chopping block

Tommy, on the chopping block

It isn't until a new teacher at Hailsham, Miss Lucy (Sally Hawkins), informs them that their sole purpose is to give extended life to others that the dynamic of the trio starts to shift. After that day, Ruth, who is well aware of Tommy and Kathy's unfulfilled love for one another, makes a move on Tommy. Echoing tones of Sandra Goldbacher's Me Without You, the film then shifts to 1985, when the trio is transferred from Hailsham to The Cottages. By now, Tommy and Ruth have been together for years, though it's clear Tommy's interest in Kathy hasn't waned. Ruth's jealousy over this makes her hostile toward Kathy, who begins distancing herself from both Tommy and Ruth at this time. With the option to become what is called a "carer," Kathy is able to delay her first donation by several years. It's another ten before she sees Tommy and Ruth again after they depart from The Cottages.

Bizarre love triangle

Bizarre love triangle

The next time Kathy sees her female rival, Ruth has completed two donations and is going on to her third. When a donor has "completed," this is a polite way of saying he or she has kicked the bucket. Ruth, overtly humbled and wizened by her experiences in the operating room, requests that she and Kathy go on a trip together--with Tommy. Because Ruth has had time to reflect on the turn of events at Hailsham and The Cottages, she confesses to Kathy and Tommy that she knows keeping them apart was the worst thing she ever did, but it was her way of feeling like she wouldn't be the one to end up alone. To remedy her mistake, she gives them the address of one of the headmistresses of Hailsham, Madame Mary Claude (Natalie Richard), who is rumored to give couples "truly in love" a deferral on their donations. 

The bittersweet conclusion finds Kathy alone after experiencing the brief bliss of finally being with Tommy as they were intended to be. The disappointment of Madame Mary Claude's rejection is compounded by her telling them that they're, in essence, lesser than human. But Kathy knows better, remarking, "In the end, we all 'complete'" and "None of us understand what we've gone through, or feel that we've had enough time." The differences between "donors" and "normal humans" are, thus, not that vast. 

"I'm a snake that's been carrying around my old skin for too long." This line, delivered by Keira Knightley (in an American accent that's rather good, actually) as Megan Burch is the summation of what Lynn Shelton's Laggies (alternately known as Say When in Britain) represents, particularly for what will later be known as Millennial Syndrome. 

Confusion is easier when you have someone else to be confused with

Confusion is easier when you have someone else to be confused with

Considering the intense subject matters of Lynn Shelton's prior films, including Your Sister's Sister and Touchy Feely, it comes as no surprise that Laggies wouldn't hold back in its exploration of the utter stagnation that transpires in the ten years you spend recovering from the ease and promise of graduating from high school. Megan only begins to realize in her late twenties that she's been in a state of atrophy ever since prom night when she and her other three best friends broke into the school pool and jumped in together. 

To her latent dismay, she is currently serving as a bridesmaid for one of her "best friends," Allison (Ellie Kemper), who treats her like a crazy person for her irreverent jocularity (e.g. titty twisting a Buddha statue's nipples). Feeling imprisoned by her group of friends, it seems that the one person Megan can be herself around is her boyfriend, Anthony (Mark Webber), who is also in his own unspoken state of degeneration. In spite of working as a sign holder for her father's (played by Jeff Garlin of Curb Your Enthusiasm) tax company, Megan manages to hold her emotions in check until she sees her father getting a hand job from Allison's mother in the courtyard area at the wedding.

Promo poster for Laggies

Promo poster for Laggies

It is at this point that she flees the scene all too readily (especially since her boyfriend just attempted to propose to her at someone else's wedding, which is essentially the lamest thing ever), finding herself at a grocery store where high schooler Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her friends ask Megan if she can buy them some alcohol. Sharing some sort of instant "laggies" affinity, Megan ends up hanging out after giving them the goods, joining them in toilet papering Junior's (Daniel Zovatto)--Annika's best friend and love interest--dad's house. 

Trying to evade marriage

Trying to evade marriage

The simple pleasures of enjoying the same things she used to as a youth make Megan hesitant to return to reality, where she must deal with answering Anthony's question about marriage. Although she agrees to elope with him in Vegas, Megan stalls by saying she's going to a career counseling seminar on Orcas Island for the week. And while she did originally intend to go, a call from Annika begging her to come to the school to pretend to be her mother for a parent/teacher conference changes her plans for the rest of the week, and, ultimately for the rest of her life.

Fast friends

Fast friends

Through seeing the same mistakes and insecurities that Annika has when Megan was once her age, she is able to gain the courage to finally have some inkling of what she wants from life--tracing back to the more recent adage: I don't know what I want, but I know it's not this.

By now, Alan Turing's reputation precedes him. As the pioneer of the "Turing machine," what would later be known as the progenitor of modern computers, Turing was enlisted by the British government at the onset of World War II to help decode the German cipher machine that deployed strategic information on the German military's next moves. In Morten Tyldum's The Imitation Game, an adaptation of the novel, Alan Turing: The Enigma, we're given a succinct glimpse into the psychosis and emotional complexity of Turing through the lens of Benedict Cumberbatch's in touch-ness with the man who would eventually be eviscerated by the very government he helped save millions of lives.

A man and his computer

A man and his computer

Aloof and annoyingly confident in his interview with Commander Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance), Turing nonetheless manages to finagle his way into the job by mentioning the word "Enigma," the name of the machine the Germans use for all communications that are indecipherable by anyone else. Intrigued by Turing's potential, Denniston hires him, though Turing is markedly disappointed when he learns he has to work with the likes of cryptanalyst and famed chess player, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode). This prompts Major General Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong, who is always delightfully deadpan) of MI6 to sarcastically note, "Popular in school, were you?" The query segues nicely into Turing's past at an all boys boarding school where he was teased mercilessly and only had one friend (read: love interest) named Christopher (Jack Bannon), after whom Turing eventually names the prototype for his decoding computer.

Like most brilliant people, Turing has difficulty relating to others, particularly those he's forced to work with. Thankfully, Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), one of the only female cryptanalysts in the field, comes to Bletchley Park after Turing gets a promotion from Winston Churchill himself. Unlike most people, Turing is not offput by her sex and sees the potential of her skill as a merit to the team. The two, both something of an anomaly, take an immediate liking to one another, though Clarke initially misinterprets his emotional affection for romantic interest.

Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke

Keira Knightley as Joan Clarke

With the pressure on for Turing to make Christopher work the way he insists it will, Denniston is increasingly eager to fire him. Major General Menzies, on the other hand, can see that Turing's ability to live with lies and secrets will be a great asset to winning the war. Thus, the two collaborate together seamlessly after Turing cracks Enigma without letting on to the Germans that the British are aware of every exchange--much to the ire of Turing's fellow team members, especially one who has a brother riding in a U-2 boat that's about to be blown to pieces. 

Turing and his crew

Turing and his crew

As Cumberbatch portrays Turing in all his phases of struggle and deterioration--particularly at the end of his life after being forced by the government to take hormones to "quell" his homosexuality--we're given a snapshot of a lonely man who turned to computer science not merely because of his brilliance, but because, it seemed, a machine would never judge him with the harshness of a human. Furthermore, Cumberbatch has come a long way in the realm of biopics since his last horrendous performance as Julian Assange in The Fifth Estate.



With all the fanfare that's surrounded The Interview, it was obviously never going to be a film that had any chance of actually being good. This is the unfortunate truth about most movies that receive a large amount of publicity before being released. And yet, this is the most assured, time-honored way to generate revenue at what is left of "the box office."

Opening with a North Korean girl who seems to be singing angelically, we are then given the vitriolic translation of such lyrics as, "May they be forced to starve and beg and be ravaged by disease/May they be helpless and poor and cold/They are arrogant and fat/They are stupid and they're evil," with regard to the North Korean outlook on the United States. Already, this gives us an instant snapshot of how offensively over the top the film is going to be to both cultures involved. And, of course, rather than putting any sort of favorable light on how the "average American" is perceived, it uses a non-exaggerated version of James Franco as an interviewer for a trashy entertainment show to reveal some less than faint insight about the nature of American taste. 

Dave Skylark (Franco) himself states that Americans just want shit to be shoveled into their mouths (noting, "mangia, mangia, mangia" as he makes this statement) and is, indeed, a caricature of the type of host Americans are drawn to. And yet, the satirical element is utterly lacking, instead comprised of stupidity rather than biting political commentary. 

Lizzie Caplan as Agent Lacey

Lizzie Caplan as Agent Lacey

In spite of being a highly ranked TV show, Skylark Tonight is collectively balked at by “serious” news shows like 60 Minutes. This irks longtime producer Aaron Rapoport (Seth Rogen) to no end, as he originally went to the Columbia School of Journalism in order to document the more meaningful news of the world. After reaching the one thousandth episode and being mocked by one of his former college classmates, Aaron is all too sobered by the permanent turn his career has taken. This, in fact, is the most interesting facet of the film in that it’s the only element even remotely resembling character complexity. 

Wanting to appease Aaron, Dave agrees to make strides to change the direction of the show (away from such subjects as Eminem confessing he’s gay and Rob Lowe confessing he’s bald). And because The Interview adheres as clichely as possible to three-act structure, the opportunity to interview Kim Jong-un immediately arises. After Jong-un confesses to Skylark Tonight being one of his only American indulgences, Aaron contacts one of Jong-un’s associates by the only means he knows how: through the Olympics headquarters office (real roundabout).

When Sook (Diana Bang--no comment on last name) calls him back and tells him to meet in China to talk further, Aaron makes your standard Asian accent jokes (adding to the extreme tact of the movie) and then realizes the call is actually real. After schlepping to China and being given the terms of the interview, Aaron and Dave are approached by Agent Lacey (Lizzie Caplan) the morning after taking ecstasy in semi-celebration of the interview’s acceptance and subsequent publicity/backlash. 

Proposing to "take him out"

Proposing to "take him out"

As Agent Lacey and her associate wait in the doorway, Dave screams continuously about having “stink dick” and how he has no idea who he boned last night. The joke goes on for about five minutes, as though to somehow brainwash one into thinking that this is the height of comedic genius. At last the joke ends and Agent Blank can finally get to the point and ask them to “take him out” when they go to North Korea. And how are they to do so? With the rip-off method from Breaking Bad known as ricin.

Promotional poster

Promotional poster

Briefed and trained as well as can be expected, Dave and Aaron are sent off to execute the plan, only to instantly fuck it up by not putting the ricin in the specified bag and having it mistaken for gum by one of the guards, who then promptly chews it and tells Dave and Aaron that American gum is shit. The loss of the ricin is one of the quintessential second act obstacles necessary to keep the plot going, as made obvious by Aaron being required to go outside to collect a new batch from a missile launched nearby, battling a Siberian tiger and then having to shove the missile up his rectum (real classy) in order to hide it from the approaching guards.

And yet, after all of this work, Aaron is foiled by Kim Jong-un’s “honeydicking” of Dave, whom he takes for a ride in his armored tank (a gift from Stalin to his grandfather) while listening to Katy Perry (another played pop culture element in the wake of Horrible Bosses 2). After their magical day together, Dave can’t help but have feelings of remorse for wanting to kill him, causing him to deviate from the plan by stomping on the poison to keep Aaron from hurting his new friend. It is at around this juncture in the movie that summarization becomes utterly useless as the course of events not only becomes so difficult/predictable watch, but also becomes over the top in a manner more reminiscent of a low-budget cartoon as opposed to a satire. But hey, at least Rogen and Franco proved that America isn’t at risk for censorship of total tripe. So if you want to see something called The Interview, you might be better off investing your time in Interview with Sienna Miller and Steve Buscemi.





Woody Allen's experience dabbling in the exploration of the world of magic and the occult is nothing new. His 2001 film, The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, which is also set in the earlier part of the twentieth century, focuses on a shysty hypnotist who gets C.W. Briggs (Allen) and Betty Ann Fitzgerald (Helen Hunt) to act as jewel thieves. And then came Scoop in 2006, which follows Sondra Pransky (Scarlett Johansson), an aspiring journalist, as she is haunted by the ghost of another reporter who appears to her in a magic show put on by illusionist Sid Waterman (Allen). Thus, Magic in the Moonlight seems a fine-tuning of the previous times Allen has dabbled with magic-themed plotlines.

Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), a medium getting "a vibration"

Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), a medium getting "a vibration"

This time around, Allen combines magicians and mediums in the year 1928 (he's always fond of the past, after all). Channeling a stodgier version of Allen's most famous character, Alvy Singer of Annie Hall, Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth) a.k.a. Wei Ling Soo is a cynical and staunchly anti-phenomena illusionist who also prides himself on being able to debunk frauds and swindlers. When a fellow illusionist and friend, Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney), comes to Crawford to ask for his help in demystifying a medium named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), he is immediately game to do so. Convinced that exposing her phoniness will be easy, Crawford accompanies Burkan to the Azure Coast to see her in action. 

Upon seeing Sophie "read thoughts," Stanley remains vehemently skeptical in spite of not being exactly sure how she could know so much about him (she mentions she's getting an "Orient vibe," in reference to Stanley's stage name). Although Sophie has won the affections of wealthy Brice Catledge (Hamish Linklater)--and has convinced the matriarch of the family of her talent--she seems far more intrigued by Stanley, allowing herself to be charmed by his brand of biting humor. She even cancels plans with Brice to go meet Stanley's Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins) instead.

Driving to Provence

Driving to Provence

Regardless of how old Woody Allen gets--and regardless of the lingering taint of his child molestation accusation--he never ceases to include an inappropriate age difference between his leading man and woman. In this case, Firth is 54 and Stone is 26, making for a quintessentially Allen creep factor. But at least Firth has the dreamy charisma to pull it off, whereas Stone is still a bit too gawky to seem at ease with an older man. 

As Stanley succumbs to believing in Sophie's magic, Sophie, in turn, starts to fall in love with him. However, just as Stanley thought, he should have known better than to believe in a world where miracles are possible. With Stanley's character a mirror of Allen's own (the usual case with every main male character in an Allen film, including the need to tell his love interest that she could be smarter, e.g. Annie Hall), it only makes sense that his cynicism would intensify after the disappointment of briefly believing in magic, only to have it be a ruse. However, it is in this form of Allen consistency that he has managed to sustain interest in his career all these many decades later. And arguably, it's better than the often overrated Midnight in Paris.

 

 

 

 

 

In Italian, A Five Star Life is called Viaggio Sola, meaning I Travel Alone. Perhaps that was too real of a translation to be palatable to American audiences, hence the more politically correct English title. After all, being discriminatory against middle-aged single women is decidedly twentieth century. Or is it?

Promo poster for A Five Star Life

Promo poster for A Five Star Life

Irene Lorenzi (Margherita Buy) is a mid-forties hotel inspector/"mystery guest" who makes her living by staying in luxury hotels around the world and rating the number of stars they have critically based on the minutiae, right down to how long it takes room service to deliver food. A five-star experience denotes the height of luxury, unlike any other experience a guest has ever had. Written and directed by Maria Sole Tognazzi, best known for the 2010 documentary, Ritratto di Mio Padre, the nature of the story is decidedly Italian in that Irene, in spite of the fantastic nature of her job, is looked down upon--particularly by her married sister, Silvia (Fabrizia Sacchi)--for choosing a life free of conventional responsibility. 

Living in the lap of luxury

Living in the lap of luxury

Although this sort of judgment exists in American culture as well, no one likes to keep it old school more than the Southern Italians. Even Irene's ex-boyfriend/best friend, Andrea (Stefano Accorsi), who initially comes off as a man unconcerned with the expected conventions of life, succumbs to fatherhood after getting one of his dalliances pregnant. Fearful that she'll lose the one other person she knew of who was living for himself, Irene is thrown further into an emotional free fall when a seemingly invincible powerhouse of a single woman she meets at the bar of the hotel she's staying at in Berlin passes away in the middle of the night. 

Italian promo poster

Italian promo poster

This prompts her to call Silvia, who she's just gotten into a fight with after telling her that a sexy dress she tried on didn't look good on her, and tell her to pick her up at the airport when she returns. Silvia refuses, still offended that Irene sees her as nothing more than a wife and mother, some sort of sexless slave to her domesticity. Eventually, the two reconcile after Irene mails her the dress as a peace offering, though, by this time, she's already on the way to her next destination. 

What A Five Star Life seeks to tell us--particularly those of us who are women--is that maybe "having it all" is overrated. As overrated as a luxury hotel. Maybe it's okay to focus on finely honing one element of our lives instead of trying to embody all the roles that are expected of us. In the end, we'll find, it may lead to greater happiness.   





Although certain non-trend forecasting types might have sooner thought Lady Gaga would have outlasted Nicki Minaj's brand of freaky deaky, the release of the Queensian/Trinidadian's third album, The Pinkprint (yes, an overt nod to Jay-Z), unquestionably outshines her prior works, and ensures her place in the annals of hip hop innovation. 

The new holy hip hop Bible

The new holy hip hop Bible

Opening with "All Things Go," this song sets a new and more recent precedent for Nicki Minaj: being freely emotional as she strays away from her MC-style voice. The subsequent "I Lied" continues to see Minaj on her personal tip, illuminating the way most women feel about opening their heart again after having it trampled upon as she sings, "I lied to keep you from breaking my heart." Protection through an air of impenetrability is the resonant theme throughout.

"The Crying Game" features a snake-charming sort of beat as Minaj alternates between her hard and soft personas, singing, "Welcome to the crying game where you lose your soul." Jessie Ware complements the song with her distinct brand of Britishness (possibly an influence suggested by Roman). Next up is "Get On Your Knees," which is just as empowering as you would expect it to be, with Ariana Grande backing Minaj on vocals as she sings, "Baby I'ma need you to beg for it/Get on your knees, get on your knees/Baby just get on your knees." Minaj chimes in with her usual sauciness, insisting, "I got a bow on my panties because my ass is a present."

"Feeling Myself," which already broke the internet a few days ago, combines the best of Minaj and Beyonce, a pairing you would think was too good to actually work. It's also bound to be the "getting ready" song of 2015. "Only" featuring the somewhat bizarre trifecta of Drake, Lil' Wayne and Chris Brown is the song that landed Minaj in anti-Semitic hot water earlier this year, prompting her to make an alternate video. Either one you watch, the song remains weirdly entrancing. 

"Want Some More" addresses Minaj's tumultuous relationship with the limelight, acknowledging that the more she's talked about, the more she knows they "want some more." She announces, "I'm in this bitch I'm gettin' money/One minute they hate me, then they love me." Clearly, she doesn't care either way. Following is "Four Door Aventador," one of the best songs on The Pinkprint, with its mid-tempo beat that reels you in and keeps you on the hook as Minaj finds a way to create a rhyme string that includes "Machiavelli" and "spaghetti."

"Favorite" featuring Jeremih has a certain lo-fi quality to it, in spite of it being obviously heavily produced. But it harkens back to the roots Minaj was aiming to re-create with this album as Jeremih croons, "I just wanna be your favorite." Simple vocals and beats make it one of the most organic tracks on the album. "Buy A Heart" featuring Meek Mill has a somewhat misleading title that might make one assume it's going to be a maudlin message, but this is quickly negated by Meek's query, "Anybody wanna buy a heart? 'Cause I don't use this shit anyway." Minaj adds, "Anybody, anybody, anybody wanna buy love?" It's all a reference to the interchangeability money has with these sentiments in the current epoch.

Showing love for her native Trinidad, "Trini Dem Girls" featuring Lunchmoney Lewis offers an South American-inspired beat as Minaj reverts to her "island voice," singing, "Dem island girls is da baddest/I know that you want it/I see that you watchin'/You know that I'm sexy/I hope that you're ready to come here and get it." The subsequent song is probably one you're already familiar with. And if you're a stranger to "Anaconda" at this point you either 1) never heard Sir Mix-a-Lot's version or 2) are living in among a cult that only permits the acknowledgement of flat asses. Culling the best aspects of what made Sir Mix-a-Lot's original gave us, Minaj infuses her own distinct brand into it (signature backside included). And then there's that "he toss my salad like his name was Romaine" line that changed mainstream sexuality forever.

"The Night Is Still Young" takes the musical pace up a notch, serving as something of a nod to the Black Eyed Peas' terrible "I Gotta Feeling." Declaring, "the night is still young/so are we," Minaj conjures lyrical comparison to Kesha, though the rapper makes the vibe less pop, and more dance--a genre she tends to be underrated in. Giving us more of her introspective side, "Pills n Potions" laments how easy it is to dose oneself with meds in order to numb the pain, while still stressing the importance of forgiveness toward those who are fair-weather. Minaj asserts, "they could never make me hate you" and defiantly chants, "I still love, I still love, I still love, I still love."

"Bed of Lies" further enhances Minaj's feminine aura with vocal contributions from Skylar Grey, who sings the accusatory chorus, "Do you ever think of me when you lie/Lie down in your bed of lies?" Minaj raps about being done wrong, verging on the precipice of overdosing (there's that "Pills n Potions" element again). For all its seriousness, Minaj still throws in a worthwhile pop culture reference as she notes, "This ain't how to be a player/You ain't Bill Bellamy." "Grand Piano" is a grand way to close the album (though, of course, it's not ever really the end in these bonus track-laden times). Obviously fresh from sort of heartbreak, Minaj wails, "The people are talkin'/The people are sayin' you're playing my heart like a grand piano/So play on, play on, play on." Yeah, you know it's intense when there's a violin playing Paula Abdul's "Rush" in the background. So listen with caution.

The first in the series of bonus tracks that wind down the album is "Big Daddy" featuring Meek Mill. It finds Minaj back in her true MC form, as she allows Meek Mill to go way back to demanding to be called an old term of endearment as he raps, "Yo bitch call me big daddy." "Shanghai" brings out Minaj's ball-busting persona again as she screams, "ain't fuckin' witchu bitch niggas/I'm not a regular bitch/so when they see me they jump on my dick." The self-confidence doesn't stop there as "Win Again" elucidates all the ways in which Minaj keeps winning (not to evoke images of Charlie Sheen) and that she's the "Muhammed Ali" of the rap world. Cockily stating, "I don't got good vision, but I don't see no competition," Minaj still finds time to make an insulting pop culture reference with, "I'm Meryl Streep to all these bitches/They can't do what I do."

The final bonus track is "Truffle Butter," another song featuring Drake and Lil' Wayne (guess Chris Brown couldn't make the cut twice), which offers a vivrant (to use a Q-Tip non-word) beat to conclude the album with (you may also recognize it from Cassie's "Me & U"). Proving that fame hasn't made her go soft, lyrics like, "Truffle butter on your pussy, you ain't gotta tell yo friend that eat I it in the morning," pepper the song with Minaj-grade perversity.  

Like Charles Bukowski or Bret Easton Ellis (though some might find these comparisons egregious), Thomas Pynchon knows how to wield L.A. to its optimum sinister level. So, too, does director Paul Thomas Anderson, officially anointed into a new class of filmmaker after being the first person to be permitted to adapt a Pynchon novel. 

Promotional poster for Inherent Vice

Promotional poster for Inherent Vice

Anderson, whose last film was the fairly straightforward The Master, undoubtedly helps ease Pynchon's style into the masses. Set in 1970 Los Angeles, a town still reeling from the Manson murders and subsequent trial, Inherent Vice gives us a glimpse into the shift that occurred in terms of hippie perception at the dawn of this decade. Once seen as a harmless stoner, free love-loving sect, they suddenly became an entity to fear--a faction whose drug consumption could taint them at any minute, prompting them to start cults and kill people.

Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello

Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello

At the center of it all is private detective Larry "Doc" Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix), attempting to be a good man in spite of the many drug and sexual temptations at his unwashed fingertips, hence the frequent need for critics to allude to The Big Sleep, The Long Goodbye and The Big Lebowski when discussing this film. Portrayed as possibly the last person with a moral compass in L.A. (which is saying a lot considering his profession and psychedelic preferences), Doc is confronted by his ex-girlfriend, Shasta Fay Hepworth (Katherine Waterston), in a scene that blurs the line between fantasy and reality (in fact, we are often left to wonder how much of the story is Doc's hallucination). She tells him that she's worried about her boyfriend, real estate mogul Mickey Wolfmann (Eric Roberts--who would have thought he would ever get another movie role?). Subsequently, Wolfmann and Shasta disappear, leaving Doc to put together the pieces.

With Shasta toward the end of their relationship

With Shasta toward the end of their relationship

Another puzzler in terms of the moral ambiguity of the time is Detective Christian "Bigfoot" Bjornsen (Josh Brolin), a man who is--much to the Bluths' delight--always sucking on frozen bananas. It is, indeed, these nuances that make the film version of this novel so enjoyable to watch. Bigfoot waffles between the classification of good and evil as well, with his approach to law enforcement being more than a bit gruff, and yet, having an undeniable soft spot for Doc even though he's a hippie, and therefore stands for everything Bigfoot hates. 

Psychedelia city

Psychedelia city

Though there are many seemingly intricate plot points (ones that also involve Sasha Pieterse, a.k.a. Alison "A" DiLaurentis on Pretty Little Liars, as Japonica Fenway) that lead to other more seemingly intricate sub-plot points, Inherent Vice is really about the struggle to be good in times that openly espouse the benefits of being bad. Other than that, if you try to make any true sense of something derived from a Pynchon novel, you'll end up in the Chryskylodon Institute like Japonica or Mickey. The best thing to do is let Paul Thomas Anderson be your non-partisan guide through the world created by Pynchon. You'll feel so much safer when you do. 

As a prolific writer of short features, Anna Martemucci's first full-length feature, Hollidaysburg, tells the common story of college students returning home for Thanksgiving--their first break of freshman year--and coming to find that nothing is quite the way it used to be. The very summary of the narrative conjures instant comparisons to Less Than Zero or even that less lauded gem, Son-In-Law. But what gives Hollidaysburg an edge over the others is a nouveau homage to the 80s movie style.

Promotional poster for Hollidaysburg

Promotional poster for Hollidaysburg

As the requisite wallflower in high school, Tori (Rachel Keller), stayed close to home after high school, attending nearby UCM. Most of the other students from her school opted for Penn State, including Heather (Claire Chapelli) the popular girlfriend of popular Scott (Tobin Mitnick), who seems to be having an existential meltdown in the wake of going to college and realizing that it's largely a scam--an expensive waiting room for unemployment. Perhaps this is what leads her to break up with Scott while having disinterested sex with him.

Anna Martemucci, who also has a role in the film, at work in the director's chair

Anna Martemucci, who also has a role in the film, at work in the director's chair

Scott, who used his student loan funds to fly back to Hollidaysburg from UCLA--even though his parents recently moved out of town--is flummoxed by Heather's brashness. Now it seems the only people who care that he's home are his brother, Phil (Philip Quinaz), and best friend, Petroff (Tristan Erwin), a drug-loving slacker with ties to Heather as well. Those ties prove stronger than he thought when Heather texts him for weed and they start hanging out for the rest of the break. 

But Scott, too, has a new flame after Tori accidentally runs him over with her car and offers to take him to the hospital--rescinding that offer after explaining that since she had a few drinks, she might get a DUI. Charmed by her quirkiness (and possibly the fact that she bears a very similar aesthetic to Heather), Scott takes a shine to her. Although he knew her in high school, she appears different to him now, more at peace with herself.

The film's tag line

The film's tag line

The realization that fulfilling their dreams of getting away from home and starting the next phase of their lives wasn't all it was cracked up to be lend the main characters of Hollidaysburg a relatability on par with John Cusack's lovelorn Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything... Because, yes, college is just the beginning of disappointment, and this is the usual moment in a white person's life that can be pinpointed to their gradual but steady mental spiral. Indeed, the film concludes with Tori quoting John Updike (who hailed from a town nearby Hollidaysburg): Each day, we wake slightly altered, and the person we were yesterday is dead. So why, one could say, be afraid of death, when death comes all the time?” This apropos assessment of humans in general and college students in particular is indicative of the unavoidable ebb and flow of life--no matter how addicted some of us become to stagnation. Tori consoles herself with Updike's thought, putting a positive spin on it by noting, "There's something nice about dying every day. And being born and born and born."

 

 

 

Charli XCX gets straight to the point of her third album, Sucker, with the opening song of the same name by breaking down her bottom line, which is fun, liberation and vindication. The lyrics, "Head bang/Pink rocks/Gold fangs/I'm a killer now/I'm a killer now/Oh dear god, do you get me now?/Do you get me now?" make all of this abundantly clear.

Too cool for school

Too cool for school

This motif is continued with "Break the Rules," an ardent expression of wanting to rebel as she insists, "I don't wanna go to school/I just wanna break the rules/Putting on our dancing shoes/Going to the discotheque/Getting high and getting wrecked." It's yet another indication of her youthful exuberance that one can find contagious even when they're too old to be listening to this album. 

Looking more approachable than usual

Looking more approachable than usual

The bouncy, feel good-ness of "London Queen" features an 80s tinge with its Ramones-inspired "oy, oy" shouting mixed with the outsider perspective of: "I never thought I'd be livin' in the USA/Doin' things the American way/Livin' the dream like a London queen." Considering Ariel Pink contributed to some of the lyrics, it's no wonder there's a backbeat that pays homage to the surreal. 

Album cover for Sucker

Album cover for Sucker

Joining the ranks of the great breakup anthems, "Breaking Up" is an empowering track that insists, "Everything was wrong with you/Breaking up was easy to do/Hate your friends and your family too." The accompanying video for "Breaking Up" shows Charli XCX moving onto the reckless phase of her post-breakup life with ease and carefreeness. 

"Gold Coins" is another anthemic track, albeit for the Paris Hilton set. Touting, "My platinum troubles are drownin' in pink champagne/Gold coins out the window/I'm spendin' like I don't care," Charli XCX lives out every poor girl's fantasy by adhering to the recently revised adage, "Girls just want to have funds."

"Boom Clap," which you may recognize as the only remotely edgy aspect of The Fault in Our Stars as it appeared on the soundtrack, features jubilant beats and vibrant vocals as Charli XCX compares the sound of her heart to the words "boom clap," not to be confused with the clap. The suggestively titled "Doing It" bears no resemblance to the LL Cool J song of the same name. Instead, it has musical overtones of late 80s Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey with its fanciful keyboard sounds in the background as Charli XCX sings, "We stayin' all night/Never so down/I think we better do it like we're doin' it now."

Single cover for "Break the Rules"

Single cover for "Break the Rules"

"Body Of My Own" is an independent declaration of how "I don't need you/I touch myself better." Yes, it's been a long time since there was a decent song championing masturbation--it certainly wasn't Britney Spears' "Touch of My Hand." Complaining that, "You're so damn cold, you got no feelin'/I want my man hotter," Charli XCX looks to herself for sexual gratification. "Famous" opens with an addictive riff that reels you in right away. Espousing the desire to be among the crowds and the blinding lights, Charli XCX announces, "Need some neon lights/Wanna feel like I'm electrified" and then makes the somewhat cheeky analogy, "We're so shameless/Just like we're famous."

"Hanging Around" is the perfect song for anyone who has ever felt the ennui of being trapped in one place for too long, particularly adolescents feeling trapped in their sequestered bubble. Charli XCX opens the track with, "Help me out/I need escape/It's the truth I need to go." The pain and agony of being "too bored hanging around" is something that resonates across the ages.

"So Over You" only appears on the European version of the album, so why bother tormenting American listeners with a description of it? But at least you can console yourself over not being European with "Die Tonight," which has echoes of Ke$ha's "Die Young," both in theme and tone. Shouting, "Oh, I could die tonight 'cause I got the magic in my blood and I'm stayin' till the sun comes," Charli XCX owns the confidence of her youth with ease and empowerment. 

No fucks given

No fucks given

"Caught in the Middle" tells the tale of two hearts getting "caught in the middle of love" and the desire to "press rewind" to the part where the heartbreak element wasn't a part of the fallout of love. But the ease with which we give in to the initial pleasure of love is too great to ignore, elucidated by the lyric, "We tried to turn around, but we can't stop it now."

"Need Ur Love" possesses the vibe of a 60s doo-wop song with its sugary sweet tone in spite of singing lovelorn lyrics like, "I need your love/I need it even when it hurts me." By far the greatest departure from the content of the rest of the album, this concluding track makes one hope Charli XCX will take an Amy Winehouse Back to Black approach on her next record. Though it wouldn't be the worst thing if she stuck to her current nouveau riot grrl meets pop diva style.

 

Damien Chazelle's second film, Whiplash, builds somewhat on his debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, with the themes of sacrificing love and a personal life in order to pursue one's talents. In his finely tuned, often unexpectedly suspenseful sophomore effort, we find ourselves in the jazz musicians' world (just as we did in Guy and Madeline), amid a Julliard-esque music school called the Shaffer Conservatory, where the mildly talented are quickly separated from the extremely gifted. 

Pressure's on

Pressure's on

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) falls perhaps somewhere in between the two categories, wanting desperately to join the ranks of drummer legends like Buddy Rich. Eyeing the coveted jazz band class taught by famed conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), Neiman is both nervous and excited when Fletcher walks in on him practicing alone--only to become immediately disheartened when Fletcher leaves the room seemingly unimpressed.

Promotional poster for Whiplash

Promotional poster for Whiplash

Neiman gets his second chance when Fletcher comes in to his class to hear him and his fellow classmates play, unexpectedly (though not that unexpectedly) choosing Neiman to join his own band as the alternate drummer. At first, Fletcher appears perfectly approachable to Neiman, who clearly looks to him as the source of inspiration missing from his personal life. Though telltale signs like Fletcher telling him to show up for practice at 6 a.m. when it actually begins at 9 a.m. lead him to wonder at the nature of his beloved instructor. And, of course, the second Neiman reveals information about his life--that his mother left him and his father (played by Paul Reiser) when he was young and that his father is a high school English teacher--Fletcher uses it to throw back in his face, making him feel like the worthless descendant of a mediocre family. 

Working for insults

Working for insults

And this all adheres to Fletcher's larger philosophy, which is, "The two most harmful words in the English language are 'good job.'" Pushing Neiman to the physical and emotional brink (bloody hands and tears are frequently involved), Fletcher shows no regard for anything but the musical excellence of his band. Just when you're convinced he's a total automaton, the news of a former student's death (supposedly by car accident) drives Fletcher to actually cry in front of his class, lamenting the demise of a great musician.

Blood on the drums

Blood on the drums

What makes Whiplash so engaging is its complex exploration of character: Fletcher, who you feel like you should hate, but can't help respecting for his commitment to superior music, and Neiman, who possesses such an earnestness and desire to be great, that you feel each of his failures as intensely as he does. Not only that, but it is a film that addresses a question Americans have long sought to avoid: Is being "good" what's made this country so artistically mediocre in the past decade?

For a film as overtly commercial as Horrible Bosses 2, one might not expect such controversial issues as nymphomania and homophobia to be addressed, and yet, they are--albeit in a manner displayed with concerning levity and non-existent profundity. The follow up to Seth Gordon's 2011 movie (now directed by Sean Anders, the man who has also brought you Dumb and Dumber To in the same year--he's a sequels lover apparently) manages to prove that American audiences have no idea how to deal with serious subject matters unless they're transformed into farce. 

A light-hearted look at nymphomania

A light-hearted look at nymphomania

With the precedent set by the "faux" gaydom of Seth Rogen and James Franco, it seems the only way mainstream audiences can handle homosexuality is if two or more straight men are parodying it in an over the top way. From the very beginning of the film, we're given laughs via the old pantomimed hand job bit as Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) demonstrate how their invention, the "Shower Buddy," works on a morning television show.

Somewhat gay

Somewhat gay

And then there is the fact that Kurt's ring tone is "Roar" by Katy Perry, a running joke throughout the movie. Scratching the surface of Americans' uncomfortableness with homosexuality if it's taken seriously, Horrible Bosses 2 will undoubtedly be looked back upon as a relic of how gay people were handled in pop culture decades from now.

Promotional poster for Horrible Bosses 2

Promotional poster for Horrible Bosses 2

As for the nymphomaniacal aspect of the story, covered with caricature-like grace by Jennifer Aniston as Julia Harris, we're given a snapshot of a woman whose hypersexuality is demonized in a way that's really saying: "If you're a slut (a.k.a. overly enjoy sex as a woman), no one is going to take you seriously." Considering this movie was designed for the Midwestern demographic, these archetypes are not surprising, though they are somewhat played at this point in the twenty-first century.

Just when you thought Emilio Estevez in The Breakfast Club had the monopoly on poignant portrayals of wrestlers, Channing Tatum comes along with his role as Olympic gold medalist Mark Shultz. Directed by Bennett Miller (of The CruiseCapote and Moneyball fame), Foxcatcher is not just a re-telling of one of the most neurotic millionaires's downfall in recent memory, but a psychological study of the effects of isolation for the majority of one's life.

As the younger brother to fellow gold medal winner Dave Schultz (Mark Ruffalo, who, in addition to Steve Carrell, underwent a grotesque physical change for the part), Mark has subconsciously felt cast aside and lesser than for most of his life. In spite of being raised by Dave, his only true friend to speak of, his resentment toward Dave's skills as a wrestler intensifies when he's invited by John du Pont (Carrell), heir to the du Pont fortune, to train for the 1988 Olympics on his property, Foxcatcher Farm in Pennsylvania.

Though the real turn of events took place in the 90s, it seems an apropos choice for co-screenwriters E. Max Frye and Dan Futterman (who also adapted Capote) to have set the story in the 80s. As a decade when wealth was revered and lusted after, John du Pont is a character that seems to fit right in with the morals and "ideals" of this time. Suffering from more than your standard breed of mommy issues, du Pont was sequestered from the outside world as a child, with his only friend being their chauffeur's son, who he later finds out his mother paid to hang out with him.

Touched by Mark's genuine appreciation of his friendship, the two become inseparable for a time until du Pont's concerns about winning at the Olympics are intensified by his mother's disapproval over how much money he's putting into a sport that she deems "low" (her own preference, of course, is horse-related sports). This leads him to call Mark an "ungrateful ape" and subsequently pay a handsome sum for Dave to come live on Foxcatcher and help coach his team.

For those unfamiliar with the story (and even those who are), the conclusion of the film is not only shocking, but also completely gut-wrenching. The question of whether or not money and privilege leads to far more depravity and psychological damage than being a "normal" person is raised with stunning clarity, and proves the old Smiths adage, "Money changes everything" (especially your mind). 





The female best friend relationship is always a complex one. Factor in one of them being a lesbian and you've got the dynamic that comprises Susanna Fogel's debut film Life Partners. Sasha (Leighton Meester, frumping it up a bit in a post-Blair Waldorf role) and Paige (Gillian Jacobs) could not be more opposed in terms of their personality types. Paige is high-strung and determined to always get what she wants, whereas Sasha is laidback and prone to having casual relationships that never lead anywhere. Yet somehow, their friendship works based on a shared love of trash TV and essentially because they're both single 29-year-olds.

This isn't to say that their friendship lacks substance, but it is very clearly based on familiarity and convenience. Often joking about the dates they go on and the people they have sex with, never imagining anything will progress beyond one encounter, Sasha is blindsided when Paige actually likes someone she goes on an internet date with. Tim (Adam Brody, in his usual "likable guy" role), a dermatologist, is surprisingly charming and intelligent, barring his graphic tees and tendency to say "Gotcha."

Tim quickly ingratiates himself into Paige's life, leaving little room where there was once a gulf for Sasha. Although Paige still "makes time" for Sasha, the distance between them is undeniable. This sends Sasha on her own emotional bender, as she continues to ask her parents for money to supplement her receptionist job income. They happily do so under the pretense that Sasha is interested in making an album using her previously proven talent. However, as the film progresses, it's easy to see she couldn't be less into music.

It's only after her friendship with Paige deteriorates that Sasha discovers that, all this time, she's failed to "get a life" of her own. And this is one of the most salient/alarming messages of Life Partners: that no matter how close you think you are with someone or how much you rely on them, there's nothing stopping them from letting you fall flat on your ass in the end. Though, of course, because it's a Hollywood movie, it isn't quite so bleak as that. But perhaps if Leighton Meester weren't in the role (Kristen Bell a.k.a. the voice of Gossip Girl was originally going to be cast in her part) and the film had just a bit more courage in its convictions, we would see that Paige would not have forced herself to be there for Sasha in the end. That a sense of duty would not have ultimately prevailed in the end, as Paige had gotten "her own life" separate from Sasha. Because, in spite of it being the twenty-first century, the only movie to have ever championed the benefits of platonic love over romantic love is pretty much just Frances Ha.

Starting out rivetingly enough with "Idle Delilah," Azealia Banks re-introduces herself to the world with the intro track on Broke With Expensive Taste, an album she's been attempting to release since fall of 2012. After getting dropped by her label, Interscope, the opportunity to get the album out into the universe finally came on November 6, with the help of entertainment production company Prospect Park.

"Gimme A Chance," the second track already finds Banks veering toward the experimental side, with musical homages to a decidedly 80s style. Alternating between an 80s and bachata vibe, it is one of the most daring songs on the record.

"Desperado" slows down the tempo a bit, with sultry saxophones to match Banks' deep, rich vocals. Though not lyrically complex, the backbeat of "Desperado" sustains it enough to make it a worthwhile addition to the album. Following is "JFK," featuring an ambient opening that lures you in right away. Likening the assassination of JFK to the assassination of "the look/Murderin' the gown/Fashion killer, the body on the ground," Banks is given a hand on this song from Theophilus London.

"212," which has obviously been well played by now, serves as the fifth track on Broke With Expensive Taste, giving Banks something of a freebie in terms of additional content. "Wallace" is Banks at her most classicist in terms of delivering pure, straight up vocals. Showcasing her trademark brand of confidence, Banks sings, "I suppose I been hot in Europe, yep/Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Seoul, London, Tokyo/Dawn is dusk to me, yep." 

Frantic and sweltering, "Heavy Metal and Reflective" is the type of fare you would expect to hear in some dark, seedy underground club in Berlin. As the second single from the album, Banks channels Nicki Minaj with lyrics like, "I'm in every city/They say hello to the head bitch." Next up is "BBD," not to be confused as the abbreviation for Bel Biv Devoe (rather, it stands for Bad Bitches Do-it), yet another song we've already heard before, circa early 2013--which is the major flaw with the entire album: we've heard it all before.

"Ice Princess" opens with a blustering wind sound effect and a sleigh bell-like musical intro, setting the tone for the dual meaning of the song, applying to Banks' icy demeanor and her icy jewelry collection--elucidated by the statement, "I'm so cold, I'm dripping icicles/I go and take your man, that nigga might miss you/Spent his whole commission on my neck and ear." "Yung Rapunxel" (another track we've heard already) offers frantic beats in the vein of Zebra Katz's "Ima Read" as Banks repeats "I wanna be free." It's easily one of the best songs on Broke With Expensive Taste, with its combination of witch hop and rock, at times sounding faintly like Lady Gaga if she wasn't so overly processed.

"Soda" features more controlled vocals from Banks, set against danceable music you would undoubtedly hear in any gay bar worth its liquor selection. Picking up where the single "1991" left off, "Chasing Time" is perhaps Banks at her most self-assured and courageous, as she makes overt reference to her former record label and the associated contention of their relationship. Keeping in stride with the theme of the record's title, "Luxury" is a lush offering that details the conflict of wanting all that's luxe and not quite being able to attain it.

"Nude Beach A Go-Go" starts to see Banks go off the rails a little bit as she attempts to sing in a genre that's out of her wheelhouse. Luckily, it's the shortest song on the album, so that you don't have to feel uncomfortable for an inordinate amount of time. The second to last track, "Miss Amor," finds Banks back in top form with a range of musical instruments that the likes of Crystal Waters would most definitely approve of. "Miss Camaraderie," the conclusion to the long-awaited debut from Banks, continues the auditory motif of "Miss Amor," though with Banks showcasing the deeper side of her voice as she paints the picture of "A night, a scene, a town, a ride with Miss Camaraderie." Does the culmination of this collection of songs prove Banks is rich in talent even if somewhat broke in bank account? Yes. But it does leave one to wonder if she can handle herself a bit more business savvily on her sophomore effort--which will hopefully contain nothing but new material instead of recycled songs from her various EPs.


Bill Murray may be in a film a year, but he hasn't truly starred in anything since 2005's Broken Flowers, directed by Jim Jarmusch. His constant role as someone supporting or on the periphery (see: The Darjeeling Limited or Moonrise Kingdom) had perhaps almost left audiences thinking that Murray had surrendered the leading man role for good. But with Theodore Melfi's writing and directing debut, Murray has risen from the ashes of marginal characters to give us the force of nature that is Vincent MacKenna.

Coming off as your average curmudgeon, Vincent, a longtime resident of Sheepshead Bay, takes assholery to artistic heights. When new neighbors move in next door, a single mother, Maggie (Melissa McCarthy), and her son, Oliver (Jaeden Lieberher), Vincent shows off his talents for apathy quite well. Their initial introduction gets off to a rocky start after the movers Maggie hired back into the tree on Vincent's lawn, causing a branch to fall and hit his car. This quickly invokes his ire, and prompts Maggie to assume that they'll probably have minimal dealings with one another after she pays him off for the damages.

Much to her surprise, however, her hours at work (as a CAT Scan technician) turn out to be more grueling than she thought, leaving her no choice but to leave Oliver in the so-called care of Vincent. Already a social pariah at his Catholic school, Oliver takes comfort in the strange companionship of Vincent, who takes him to his favorite local bar, in addition to the race track. Oliver's "practical" education is further improved by being introduced to a prostitute Vincent occasionally pays named Daka (Naomi Watts, who has a surprisingly effective Russian accent).

Vincent unwittingly finds himself treating Oliver like a grandson, teaching him how to fight his bully at school, which results in bloodshed on both sides, though Oliver comes out the victor. Growing ever more attached to Vincent in spite of knowing so little about him, Oliver is flummoxed to find him sprawled out on the floor of his house after not picking Oliver up from school. After suffering a stroke from the stress of losing his Alzheimer's-ridden wife, who he's been going broke to keep in an affluent retirement community, and the pressure of the various gambling debts he owes to a loan shark named Zucko (Terrence Howard), Vincent becomes an even surlier version of his former self.

Regardless of his rudeness, Oliver, Daka and Maggie work together to reinvigorate his health and take care of his home while he's in the hospital. Meanwhile, Oliver's teacher at school, Mr. Geraghty (Chris O'Dowd, the most successful graduate of The IT Crowd), has assigned a project that requires each of his students to write a report on someone they know who they think qualifies as a person with saintly qualities (ah, the benefits of Catholic school). Carefully considering Vincent's behavior, Oliver chooses him, much to everyone's simultaneous surprise and understanding.

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AuthorGenna Rivieccio
CategoriesMovie Reviews

Apart from addressing that Raymond Carver continues to be an unparalleled source of inspiration/proof that no other alcoholic will ever be able to write as clearly as he, Birdman is thus far the ultimate commentary on the twenty-first century--while still possessing an air of timelessness. Acknowledging themes that have stretched across every era of humanity, Alejandro González Iñárritu's, dare one say, masterpiece examines the struggle to be noticed and feel loved, often confusing admiration for the latter.

Our introduction to washed up actor Riggan Thomson

Our introduction to washed up actor Riggan Thomson

The star of Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton, in an all too appropriate role) faded long ago in the early 90s after he decided not to make a fourth installment of a comic book franchise called Birdman. Ever since, he's been atrophying away, both in terms of talent and celebrity. His only daughter, Sam (Emma Stone, carrying off ripped tights as no one else can), serves as his personal assistant, just one example of the many damaged relationships in his life. In order to pull himself up by the proverbial bootstraps and regain a modicum of respect in the "acting world," Riggan decides to adapt Raymond Carver's short story, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love," for the Broadway stage. 

The story, about different kinds of love and where each of these kinds of love go when they seem to disappear, is all too poignant when held up against Riggan's own life, like some sort of cruel funhouse mirror. Playing multiple roles within the play, Riggan's portrayal of Ed, a jilted lover of one of the other characters, Terri (played by Naomi Watts), is the one most eerily similar to his own persona--with quotes like, "Why doesn't anyone love me? I tried so hard to be who you wanted and now I don't even know who I am anymore." This reference to not being loved by any sort of public is also especially salient due to the other lead actor, Mike Shiner (Edward Norton, amazing as usual), stealing the front page of the New York Times Arts and Culture section with his interview about the play.

Sam, Riggan's daughter/assistant

Sam, Riggan's daughter/assistant

All the while, Riggan has the interior voice of Birdman telling him what a fuck-up and failure he is for having ever abandoned the character. In typical Iñárritu fashion, the film often borders on the surreal, or, what theater critic Tabitha Dickinson (Lindsay Duncan), might call "Super-Realism," but it never strays from its most overt theme: Does cultural relevancy equate to love, and vice versa? Perhaps no other writer-director has explored this concept with as much depth in a time increasingly punctuated by a lust for fame--at any cost--that people confuse with love.