Saturday, November 28, 2015

Music Review - Grimes - "Art Angels" - By Ryan Lowell

Like any good music snob, I’m hesitant to let myself enjoy something that sounds too poppy. I’ve had my fair share of guilty pleasure moments when I hear a snippet of top-40 ear candy in public, but they have always felt more guilty than pleasurable. I would never admit that I secretly enjoy it when my dorky college buddy puts “Never Getting Back Together” by Taylor Swift on at his backyard barbecue. Like ever. But all of that changed this month when one of my favorite music snob approved musicians, Claire Boucher, aka Grimes, put out an undeniably poppy album called “Art Angels.”

If you listen to “Visions,” Boucher’s 2012 breakout album, and “Art Angels” back to back, her transition into mainstream pop contender sounds seamless; it wasn’t. Boucher’s first flirtation with mainstream pop came when she wrote “Go,” which was intended to be a single for Rihanna. “Go” ended up in pop purgatory after being dismissed by Rihanna’s camp for not being poppy enough and condemned by Grimes fans for being too poppy. Wounded, Boucher decided to scrap the entire album she was working on, but not before sharing a demo called “Realiti.” It was perhaps the catchiest song she had ever released, and fans loved it. The same Internet trolls who bullied Boucher into tossing out an entire album claimed that “Realiti” was the best Grimes song to date. 

Which brings us to “Art Angels,” an album that flaunts its pop sensibilities with a pride that’s contagious in its listeners. Even me. The beauty of the album is that it’s accessible without sacrificing any of Boucher’s experimental leanings. One “Art Angels” standout is the bubbly “Butterfly,” which brings to mind Mariah Carey’s album of the same name. Another is “Scream,” which features Taiwanese rap verses from Aristophanes and, you guessed it, lots of screaming. The album is at its best when its artistic and angelic sides are working in tandem. An example is “Kill v. Maim,” where the cheerleader chant of a chorus simultaneously satirizes gender norms and makes you want to dance. It remains to be seen whether “Art Angels” will actually earn Grimes success among the masses, but on a personal level, it has helped me come to grips with something I’ve been denying my entire life. My name is Ryan Lowell and I’m a pop music fan.


Movie Review - Bridge of Spies - Review by Jordan Bos Santos

It takes almost two full hours to get there, but when we reach the location for which Bridge of Spies is named, it’s well worth the wait. Cinematic master Steven Spielberg directs Tom Hanks in this Cold War tale, one of espionage, redemption, and good faith in humanity.  Hanks stars as James Donovan, an attorney—later becoming a lesser-known figure in America’s history—who is tasked with representing a captured Soviet spy when no one else in his firm will step up to the challenge. Donovan believes that in America, everyone should get a fair shake. 
Actor Mark Ryalance, known well in the world of stage acting but not so familiar on screen, portrays Soviet spy Rudolf Able. His Rudolf Able enables us to sympathize with the man and his dilemma, and, even more importantly, he helps to guide the audience into James Donovan’s shoes. 

We understand that Able worked for the enemy, but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that he was also human. Audience members who know a bit about the Cold War might recall American pilot Francis Gary Powers, shot down while running surveillance during a flight through Soviet Union airspace. Powers was unable to initiate the self-destruct mechanism on his plane and ended up as a prisoner of war. While James Donovan and Rudolf Able’s relationship create a bulk of the Bridge of Spies story, Gary Powers still plays a pivotal role in the course of action; upon imprisonment, Powers becomes a bargaining chip between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

With James Donovan’s sharp legal skills, and armed with a full heart, the talks between countries begin and the audience is thrust into a conflict with multiple lives on the line. Bridge of Spies is a film that manages to keep audiences in its grip without running along at a breakneck pace. 

I hadn’t realized it until the closing credits rolled, but a hallmark of a good film (at least one based on history) is enticing your audience to learn more about the subject matter after said film is over. I have no shame in saying that I ordered not one but two books about The Cold War as soon as I arrived home from the theater. As someone of a young(-er, -ish) generation, I was never taught much, nor heard much, about the Cold War.

Bridge of Spies succeeds most in providing both entertainment and education to someone in my shoes, while also appealing to an older crowd who is more familiar with this moment in our past.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Movie review - Love the Coopers - By Niels Mank

107 minutes

It’s that time of year again, Christmas movie time. The first to hit theaters is Love the Coopers. Watch the trailers and what you see is a funny group of amazing actors and actresses. You instantly want to see the movie just based on its cast. How can you go wrong with Diane Keaton, John Goodman, Alan Arkin, Marissa Tomei, June Squibb, Ed Helms, Olivia Wilde, Amanda Seyfried, Anthony Mackie, Alex Borstein with Steve Martin as the narrator?

Well as good as the cast is this will not be the top Christmas movie of 2015. The cast does an amazing job, but lacks a unique plot or story to follow. I tip my hat to Diane Keaton and John Goodman as they really carried this movie. Whenever the story veered off course they brought it right back in. Unfortunately there was not enough plot to hold it together as a must see.

The movie begins with Keaton and Goodman, on the edge of divorce trying one last time to bring their family together. They have been married for decades and Goodman just wants to fulfill his dream of going on vacation to Africa while Keaton wants to stay close to her grown up children.

While Keaton and Goodman plan for the arrival of their children for Christmas the narrator takes us through the lives of each of their children as well as Keaton’s dysfunctional sister who spends most of the movie in a cop car. 

This movie spends a lot of time in little mini dramas that all add up to the entire family coming together for Christmas and finding out that their worst nightmares are now their best memories. 

This is a movie for anyone who has that dysfunctional family and can relate to holidays being their worst nightmare. If you are a Goodman or Keaton fan this is a must see but don’t expect King Ralph or Baby Boom.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Movie review - Spectre - By Emily Maier

Run time: 150 minutes
Spectre has all the hallmarks of a Bond film: Ridiculous stunts, maniacal villains, and snarky secret agents. The film opens in Mexico City, where James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds the first clue that will lead him to an organization known as SPECTRE. Meanwhile, a threat looms inside MI6 with the creation of a new intelligence program, which would officially eliminate the need for all ‘00’ agents, including Bond himself. 

The director of Skyfall, Sam Mendes, comes back for this new installment of the franchise. Many of the same cast members have returned as well, including Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, and Ralph Fiennes, who made the most of their relatively small roles. One of the things I never tired of as the sharp contrast between Q (Ben Whishaw) and James Bond. Sometimes Bond’s cocky attitude can be overpowering, so Whishaw’s geeky character really balances out Craig’s suave persona. 

Among the new faces of Spectre were Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, and Andrew Scott, all of which were great additions to the cast. Christoph Waltz was especially fun to watch, playing the classic villain, always scheming and making elaborate metaphors under a shroud of shadows. On anyone else, the act might have seemed melodramatic and outdated, but Waltz was sinister and soft-spoken enough for it to work. That being said, Spectre squandered an incredible cast member by giving Waltz hardly any screen time. The entire movie seemed to be leading up to his character’s reveal, so I felt pretty gypped at how little time was actually allotted for him. 

As far as spies go, I’m more of a Jason Bourne girl, so I didn’t go into Spectre with extensive knowledge on the 007 series. I could still follow along just fine, but the film does harken back to a few prior installments of the Bond series, namely Skyfall and Casino Royale. I’d definitely advise viewers to watch the previous three Daniel Craig adaptations, if only because certain references within Spectre lose their impact without such background knowledge. It’s also hard to truly appreciate Spectre’s “ambiance”, if you will. The film tries really hard to reproduce the atmosphere of older Bond movies, and it does succeed in that aspect. All in all, Spectre is a great action flick, especially for the James Bond fanatics out there. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Movie review - Goosebumps (PG) - By Jordan Dos Santos

Not far into the first act of Goosebumps, I realized that this was a film made for an audience much younger than myself—now at 29. While that might sound like a bad thing, it’s not at all. 

The “Goosebumps” series was created by author R.L. Stein in 1992, making it prevalent throughout much of my grade-school career. It would make sense for the target audience of a Goosebumps movie to be an older set, but, as someone who worshiped those books, I’m happy to see the series gifted to a new, younger generation. 

Director Rob Letterman turns the average book adaptation on its ear by casting Jack Black as R.L. Stein. The Stein in this movie is a keeper of monsters, a writer whose own creations came to life and now stay locked away in their original manuscripts, in Stein’s library. Through a series of mishaps, Stein’s new neighbor (played by Dylan Minnette) stumbles upon the manuscripts with his pal Champ (Ryan Lee) and the boys accidentally unleash Stein’s creations upon their town. Both young men, along with Stein’s daughter (Odeyah Rush), are forced to team up with the author to capture the creatures before it’s too late. 

It’s a fast-paced film with a few great set pieces and monsters galore; think of it as a horror-tinged Jumanji. I found myself delighted at all of the “Goosebumps” characters I recognized, frame after frame. Anyone who grew up with “Goosebumps” books will be suddenly reminded of all the wonderful characters that filled those pages and adorned their notoriously colorful covers. 

Goosebumps excels in providing a little something for everyone, across a wide age range. There are just enough scares to keep the little ones spooked, and it’s paired with enough humor to keep the older ones laughing. With a runtime short of two hours, Goosebumps is a lean and entertaining thrill ride that has enough heart and charm to earn the price of admission. Every child should have an introduction to horror, and Goosebumps is the safest—and most ideal—way to achieve that.