The movie is chock full of visual excitement, but very little else. When reading the book, whole lines of text can jump out for being poignant, meaningful, and beautifully written. At the end of the movie, lines literally jump out at you in 3D cheesiness. The book deserves the title The Great Gatsby because Fitzgerald didn’t have to beat anyone over the head with meaning or water-down his words with easy-to-understand replacements.
This is a great and spot-on review.
Though the backhanded compliments in nearly every review I’ve read are getting old.
But even despite the abundance of buzz and bluster, the bad breakups and worse puns, Save Rock and Roll is more or less excellent. Stump’s tuxedo-wearing time in the solo trenches seems to have bolstered his ear for melody — “Alone Together” and “Miss Missing You” are skillful, skyscraping dance pop — and his eye for casting: “Rat a Tat Tat” finally hands Courtney Love the role she was born to play, that of Mark. E. Smith. (As for “The Mighty Fall,” a tepid collaboration with rapper Big Sean, well, there’s a case to be made for it on a conference call with investors but that doesn’t mean I have to listen in.) The production, by chart-whisperer Butch Walker, polishes everything until it’s in your face and gleaming: the apocalyptic strings of “The Phoenix,” the louche bottom-feeding of “Where Did the Party Go,” the Adele-aping intro of “Just One Yesterday.”
Wentz’s wordplay occasionally needs a timeout — “my heart is like a stallion / they love it more when it’s broken” is one clunker — but over the course of the album’s 11 tracks his unironic wistfulness strikes a chord. A decade ago, his Peter Pan–in-a-hoodie act seemed emotionally stunted but culturally attuned to the world at large. It was a time of big, dumb politics and big, scary events; naming albums after children’s books and writing children’s books named after Smiths songs seemed like a reasonable response for a generation that had plenty of reasons to avoid growing up. Now 33 years old, divorced, and the father of a young son, Wentz seems nostalgic for immaturity, not shackled by it. The album ends with the title track, a heavy-handed, heavy-hearted piano ballad featuring Elton John. Like this album, it’s the sort of thing that should tip over like a lead balloon, but instead it soars. “I need more dreams and less life,” Stump-as-Wentz sings, before claiming to be “the last kid kicking that still believes.” It’s a relatable sentiment for anyone who spent their youth without realizing it could never be paid back.
Review: ‘Hands on a Hardbody’
Note: I saw the show in previews, so it is likely to change before opening.
A musical based around ten people who have to keep one hand on a truck at all times (in order to win said truck) seems set up for failure. How do you stage that? What kind of choreography can you do? How is the audience not going to get bored? Luckily for ‘Hands on a Hardbody’, now playing at Broadway’s Brooks Atkinson theater, that’s not the show’s biggest problem. In fact, they rise to the challenge with flying colors. With lighting and movement they make you forget about the constraint. Instead they are plagued by different hindrances — coming not from the conceit, but its plotting and creators.
In many ways ‘Hands on a Hardbody’ is a ‘A Chorus Line’ through a Texan lens. Theater fans will immediately recognize this format, in the constant presence of all the characters, each one getting their backstory song and the common dream that they share. There are moments throughout that embrace this history and it results in the show at its best. Fortunately for ‘A Chorus Line,’ they didn’t have to declare one winner at the end.
Unfortunately for ‘Hands on a Hardbody,’ the audience knows there can only be one winner. We’re supposed to hope it’s JD (Keith Carradine), the older somewhat-sick man struggling with his marriage. He’s given ample stage time and focus in the beginning, but not enough is done to enforce him as the protagonist. So instead your allegiance shifts throughout the show to each of the different - and far more likable characters. By the end, as they each fall off and arc in their own way, the clear protagonist of our story is unclear. Perhaps, this is a fault of book writer Doug Wright and song writers Amanda Green (Bring It On) and Trey Anastasio (Phish*) for sticking too closely to the documentary on which its based?
*Where as ‘American Idiot’ was very clearly a Green Day musical, ‘Once’ was a Swell Season musical, and ‘Jersey Boys’ a Frankie Valli musical, this is not a Phish musical. Fans of Phish will surely be able to appreciate the show (the songs listed below and the orchestrations especially), but this is much more a mainstream book musical that just so happens to be co-written by Trey from Phish.
Regardless of this major structural issue, ‘Hardbody’ has a handful of beautiful songs. Particularly in its first act, ‘I’m Gone,’ ‘Stronger,’ ‘Burn That Bridge,’ and ‘Joy of the Lord’ are powerful, entertaining numbers that do the double duty of moving the audience while shading the characters. Things become more inconsistent in act two where plot takes over. Hunter Foster gets a huge 11-o-clock ballad but the highlights are scarce elsewhere. It all falls apart with the finale “Keep Your Hands on It” which bashes in the show’s central metaphor (the truck is the American dream, keep your hands on it. Get it?!) over and over again to laughable results**.
**I had a very similar reaction to ‘Bring It On’s final number, so I’m starting to think this has something to do with Amanda Green. Green’s lyrics while moving at times can often lean to far into kitsch.
The show has a lot to say about following your dreams and the current state of America. All of which are interesting and told through appropriately styled music. Hopefully it can iron out the problems before opening.
Hate on Fox all you want for canceling ‘Firefly’, ‘Arrested Development’ and every other bold fan favorite, they did one thing right. Whether it was TV audience splintering over the last twenty years (that helped ‘Chuck’ in a very similar fashion), the diehard dedication of the fandom, or Fox putting its trust and time into another experiment, against all odds the weird, strange, wonderful show that was ‘Fringe’ was given five seasons. And a chance to tell its story to its rightful end.
The series finale, while not especially revelatory, was a moving tribute to the show’s history and fans. It packed its running time with call backs and references, brought back once-forgotten characters and gave all of its main cast deep scenes to play. For a show that always delivered on big character emotions (mixed in with its science fiction), it was a return to form in the finale. John Noble particularly capped off a career-defining role with the same skill and dedication that he’s shown for five years, but brought everything full circle and made all of the “finale” moments land without seeming too overt. Noble is the next Bryan Cranston, mark my words. [Special credit should go to Michael Ceveris as well for turning a role that was a glorified extra in season one to one of the most sympathetic, lived-in characters by season five. Seriously, his performance sold so much of these final episodes.]
‘Fringe’ had its fair share of missteps over the years and even tonight’s finale wasn’t flawless. (The generous array of bullets through the fog in the final battle scene felt superfluous, hindered by the editing and staging of the set piece on top of it.) But when you go for what they went for, it’s bound to happen. ‘Fringe’s big swings and big ideas will surely outlast its hiccups and hopefully Fox, the creators and the rest of the television industry will continue to take chances on adventurous network programming.
If you stuck with ‘Fringe’ till the end, I don’t need to tell you how powerful and original the series was. If for nothing else, its creativity will be sorely missed.
Because it’s cool.
[On a personal level, ‘Fringe’ has been one of my favorite shows throughout its entire run and one that I reference most of my taste on. I am immensely satisfied with the ending and so glad that they got a chance to explore the season five story and bring it to its conclusion.]
Review: ‘Les Miserables’
With a scale as large as the musical source material and the novel that preceded it, paring ‘Les Miserables’ down to a two hour and forty minute movie was no easy task. Whether it’s the lengthy, sung soliloquies or the sweeping, multi-generational narrative that takes a literal and figurative lifetime to tell, fitting it all in may never have been an achievable goal. You couldn’t have it all could you? Tom Hooper does his best to and puts forward an effort that may be the best adaptation of the musical that could have been, but only at times does it truly soar.
artisticawesomeness asked: Were you planning on doing a review of Looper? If not, what were your thoughts on it?
I don’t think I’m going to write a formal review, no. That said, I enjoyed ‘Looper’ very much but thought it suffered from some pacing issues in the second half. Rian Johnson took a very novel approach to time travel, that science-fiction, timey-wimey fans will love. A lot of the concepts seem fresh and original despite having been played before in this genre. The notion of Loopers, TKs and time travel as a seedy underbelly activity is striking and makes ‘Looper’ stand out above the fold. The film builds to an incredible scene at the halfway point between Joseph Gordon Levitt and Bruce Willis, but from there loses its way in an almost stagnant location. The twist of the villain is unique but inevitably telegraphed. All of the performances are awesome and JoGoLev once again proved his bona fide star quality. (A small role from Jeff Daniels doesn’t hurt either.) Camera work, action, and production design were impressive for its lower budget and go along way in selling a believable future universe. ‘Looper’ is definitely worth seeing and deserving of its accolades, just know that second half takes it down just slightly.
Review: ‘Pitch Perfect’
My love for acappella started when I was a freshman in high school. The renowned Binghamton Crosbys would visit every January and sing their powerful, well-arranged covers, while at the same time a group of six senior guys were forming a group of their own named after ‘The Simpsons’ “B Sharps.” I eventually joined that group, and another in college (Syracuse University’s Orange Appeal), and fell completely into the subculture. I absorbed collegiate albums, YouTube videos, professional shows and the like, while practicing it myself. For the unaware, the genre of acappella is way more vast than you can imagine and it is startlingly well represented in its latest shot at the big time, ‘Pitch Perfect.’
Contemporary collegiate a cappella as an art form arguably dates back a hundred years or so to the Yale Whiffenpoofs, but it really picked up steam in the late 80s and 90s, when groups realized they could imitate instruments in their arrangements, and began putting out studio quality albums. The Internet was the real catalyst for the acappella boom (as it was for many other niche interests) and suddenly you had thousands of groups across the country, best-of compilation discs, and international competition.
Acappella didn’t begin to get noticed by the mainstream until the mid-to-late 2000s. This isn’t an exhaustive list of pop culture nods but there was Rockappella on ‘Carmen San Diego’ and later, Ed Helms’ ‘Office’ character, Adam Scott’s family in ‘Step Brothers’, and acappella’s shot at the big leagues, reality competition ‘The Sing Off’ on NBC. The mainstream media’s acknowledgement of the medium spanned from mockery to geeky-love. ‘The Sing Off’ was successful as a limited-run series in the holiday winter months, but proved incapable of getting strong ratings when it ran as a full-time series. This might have had to do with the poor state at NBC, or the lingering niche appreciation for the genre.
Forgive me for speaking for everyone but, ‘Pitch Perfect’ is the love letter and depiction the entire acappella community has been waiting for. ‘Pitch Perfect’ knows acappella at times can be silly but it doesn’t take it any less seriously for it. Though it’s not without its nitpick-y unrealistic moments, no piece of acappella fiction or any fiction for that matter has so closely illustrated actual experiences that I had. The community and devotion displayed between the characters on screen is sharp and precise. The tense, nervous, and exhilarating feeling one gets before, after, and during a show is totally spot on. There are no announcers at an ICCA show and it would be almost impossible for two groups from the same school to go the finals, but everything else is pretty much how it is. The rehearsals, the traveling, the camaraderie, the inter-group competition, and the drive to be different and exciting resonates to an insane degree. Never before have the issues of what all-female groups face been so well defined either. Their underdog status makes for a perfect filmic focus. And no, riff-offs don’t actually exist.
But enough about me, as a movie, ‘Pitch Perfect’ is a winner. This is Kay Cannon’s ‘Mean Girls’ moment. The script is catch-you-off-guard hilarious, combining the best aspects of the aforementioned ‘Mean Girls’ with ‘Bring It On’ and yes, ‘Glee’. (Though it manages to subvert ‘Glee’ as well.) It’s genuine in its comedy but ‘30 Rock’ fans will be glad to find some meta, self-aware humor laid throughout. ‘Pitch Pefect’ has the potential to be the cult favorite that those movies (and television) became. Its characters are so lovable and its lines and humor are so memorable, it could take hold of a whole generation of young people.
The film was supremely cast, giving rising stars a real chance to shine. Rebel Wilson is at the top of the list of reasons to see ‘Pitch Perfect’. As “Fat Amy” she steals every scene she’s in and sings well to boot. Wilson may not be a household name yet, but she will be. Anna Kendrick as our heroine Becca brings her acclaimed chops to the table. She brings a depth and subtlety to the role that few her age could have, but there are some issue with the character. Yes, she can sing and we believe her talent, but her actions sporadically border on unlikable and cause problems in the storytelling towards the end of the film. Elsewhere, a million girls just fell in love with Skylar Astin and his killer pipes, and Adam Devine cemented his status as a comedic force who knows how to deliver a line. Filling it all out are winning supporting roles from John Benjamin Hickey, Elizabeth Banks, John Michael Higgins, and cameos from Christopher Mintz Plasse, Donald Faison and Joe Lo Truglio among others.
Furthering the authenticity of the acappella community, the producers wisely brought on acappella titans Deke Sharon and Ed Boyer, the former of which ‘Pitch Perfect’ the book (on which the movie is based) refers to as the godfather of modern acappella. The two are nearly solely responsible for the current sound of acappella and its trajectory, so it was wise to bring them in as music directors and arrangers. The music choices will be familiar to top 40 listeners, but the arrangements are anything but straightforward, proving that beautiful harmonies, expertly built structure, and talented singers (ANNA KENDRICK) can sell almost anything. On top of that, ‘American Idiot’ and ‘Next to Normal’s Tom Kitt gave additional assistance with the arrangements. If you think the Warblers on ‘Glee’ sound overproduced you’re going to be very happy to hear more natural yet still massively-impressive acappella of ‘Pitch Perfect.’ But don’t forget to suspend your disbelief and accept the fact that in the world of the movie acappella singing can just come together out of thin air.
So it’s funny, and the music is excellent, and the acting is great, but by the end of the film you also may find yourself unabashedly rooting for the characters. Not only does it bring to light the struggle and persistence of all-female acappella, but it manages to tell a human story of growth, finding where you belong, and finding the people who will help you through it. Even the love story, though mostly just a subplot, is solid and touching. ‘Pitch Perfect’s beating heart may blindside you.
It goes much without saying that I’ll be seeing this again, and I hope that all the positive buzz translates into a lasting love of this film. As a former acappella singer with a special tie to the art form, I want to thank everyone who made ‘Pitch Perfect’ and so accurately captured what acappella is. All of the other kick-ass-ness is just icing on top.
Review: ‘The Master’
By now, most have come to accept Paul Thomas Anderson as a, for lack of a better term, master of cinema. His films are calculated in every aspect and informed by the entire history of the art form. ‘The Master’ is a stunning opus, and though it may not win everyone over — and may be destined for a less prolific rise than his last work — it will leave an impression on all those who see it.
Regardless of whether ‘The Master’ is actually based on L. Ron Hubbard and the beginnings of scientology, Anderson has weaved an endlessly fascinating story about the search for meaning in life and the ones that sway others by claiming to supply it. It makes a much more grandiose statement about belief and belonging than it does about any specific group. Through small, well-placed drops we get the underlying meaning without it beating us over the head. Until the film’s penultimate moments, when the key title-referencing line of the film is plopped onto us. In that we get an overstated thesis, but a significant one to ponder no less.
Though the 70 mm print may have swayed some of these opinions, the visual style is downright impressive. It’s distinct and measured. Every frame is colored in gorgeous realistic, insanely-detailed tones, with shots composed with great care. The detail is breathtaking and worth the price of admission. The period production design places us into another place and time and the cinematography makes great use of both faces, locations, and set creations.
It’s a wonder then that Anderson manages to get just as much out of his actors as he does of camera, writing, and directing. It helps to have the best of the best, and Joaquin Phoenix is simply working on another level. His immersion in this character and all of its eccentricities and flaws creates another film in itself. Freddie’s journey almost tells a different story than the one happening around him. The film may be his story, but he is unaware. Philip Seymour Hoffman had just as immense of a challenge, maybe even more so and he delivers in spades, often times wrestling the movie away from Phoenix. Amy Adams doesn’t get enough screen time but her shining moments are harrowing and memorable, making you wish there was more of her and what was going on in her head. Rami Malek, Jesse Plemmons* and Laura Dern all put in noticeable support work that shades the many sides of “The Cause.”
*Kudos to the casting director and Anderson for picking up Plemmons. It’s mind blowing how believable he is as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s son.
In the end, ‘The Master’ is more of a study on a character (Phoenix) and a cult (“The Cause”) than a strictly coherent film. Note that this is completely by design, and though some are going to be turned off by this intention, the film in its individual pieces and moments contributes to what PT Anderson is trying to do. We may be too far out from award season for this to land as hard as ‘There Will Be Blood’, but what does it really matter?
It’s a shame ‘Last Resort’ is airing at 8 pm on Thursdays because it deserves to reach as far and wide of an audience as possible. Though much like the underdog crew at the center of the story, the odds are stacked against it.
Shawn Ryan is flat out a maker of good television, and this is quite simply network drama done right. Its originality is invigorating. While it may end up resembling certain other shot-in-Hawaii, remote-island tales, this pilot is far from the norm. It covers a lot of ground but manages to squeeze out character shading and foreshadow. ‘Last Resort’ is exciting without forcing it and clever without showing off. It’s not heady or preachy, but has the potential to speak great volumes about government, war, and nuclear arms. If an audience finds it and the show follows through on the stakes established in the pilot, this could be broadcast’s next great drama.
But missiles named ‘Big Bang Theory,’ ‘Two and a Half Men,’ and ‘The X Factor’ are headed its way.