Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

After finding out about some family troubles, Conor learns that he has to transfer to a free state school to save money. While he gets bullied by the students and the principal, a young woman sitting on the stoop opposite of the entrance catches his attention. Building up the confidence to talk to her, he tells her that he has a band and invites her to be in their upcoming music video. While he had never played with a band, he works his way around the school to find other social outcasts to craft a band. As they take inspiration from budding artists like Duran Duran and The Cure, Conor convinces Raphina to join their project and perform in all of their other future videos. While the band may have served as an excuse to talk to her in the first place, Conor explores the potential of winning Raphina’s affection through his music.

Inspired 80s Music: One of the most enjoyable elements of this film was the music. While much of what was featured were songs by famous artists, there were several songs created that held the essence of the 80s while also serving as original works. Of the popular hits from the decade, some of the best included Rio by Duran Duran, Maneater by Hall & Oates, and Steppin’ Out by Joe Jackson. As Conor listens to and draws inspiration from each of the different artists, he continues to adapt his style to meet that of the artists. His music also takes inspiration from their sound, with hits like Drive It Like You Stole It and To Find You.

A Familiar Love Story: While there was nothing particularly special about the love story itself, there was something still very sweet about Conor’s love for Raphina. Not only did he pull together a band to get her attention and then include her in the music videos, but he actually wrote his music aimed at telling her how he felt about her. Up was a direct admission of his love. She clearly recognized and reciprocated affection for Conor, but she also was dealing with some personal complications regarding her lack of family and sense of belonging. Their love opens both of their eyes to a potential new adventure for them to share together.

Struggling to Find Opportunity: One of the central themes of the film was the poverty of the people in Dublin. Early on, they talked about the idea that people struggle to find work and success due to the tough economy. It was part of the reason that Conor was moved to the free school. After meeting Raphina, Conor learned that she desired to move to London and find success as a model. As the band becomes more popular, Conor even started to believe that there might be a future for him if he left home. Making such a choice like that would allow him to achieve something his brother never could.

Final Verdict: The film is nothing revolutionary, but it is simply a fun story with some great, catchy music. The soundtrack is definitely something I could listen to over and over again. The characters have an innocence that helps give the dialogue and the love story a freshness that accounts for the lack of originality.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5


215116Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys were one of the biggest bands in the US in the 60s. With Beatlemania started to take over, Brian decides that he wants to avoid getting on another plane for a world tour and instead stay at home and continue to write more inventive and creative music. While working with a whole new assortment of musicians and sounds, Brian seems to be flourishing without the restraints of the sound that made the group famous. When the rest of the guys return they start to realize that something is not quite right with their brother. Years after the disbanding of the band, Brian is struggling and being handled by a therapist. Even with his life being regimented, Brian is able to make an impression on an ex-model-turned-car saleswoman and fall in love. Melinda does not realize it at first, but she slowly begins to feel like she needs to save Brian from a seemingly dark existence.

This bio-pic helped bring to life the sad but amazing story of the seemingly star-crossed musician. While Bill Pohland worked to tell two stories interwoven through the length of the film, the true success of the film was in its actors playing Brian Wilson. John Cusack played the older version of Brian, including most of the more listless and helpless scenes between the older and younger versions of himself. Overmedicated and mishandled, Cusack was able to project a quiet light through his performance to help connect to a real care for the musician. Paul Dano was truly inspirational with his performance. He had to put together a character that was complex in his blending of genius, love, sadness, and mental instability. Elizabeth Banks (Melinda Ledbetter) was enjoyable as a hero in Brian’s life. Paul Giamatti (Dr. Eugene Landy) truly made you fearful for whether the film would portray something different from the already tragically beautiful life of Brian Wilson.

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The film helped to connect the audience with some of the real challenges with mental illness. Brian was a musical genius, but no one around him seemed to know what to do with his eccentric and erratic behavior. During his musical prime, his melancholy music failed to catch nearly as much of an audience as their more pop rock-oriented hits. His bandmates were surprised by what he produced and could not come to agreement with whether they could hang in with his more doleful themes. While the film did not show his official fall out of the group and the time during his bedridden state, it fast-forwarded to his struggles under the “care” of Dr. Landy. While his cohort mostly seemed to support Landy’s management of Brian’s life, Melinda started to serve as an avenue to potentially save Brian’s future. Her love for him ended up being stronger than Landy’s selfish management of the former star’s life.

The film has a few small moments of disjointed transitions but even the artistic moments mostly blend well in the storytelling. The true gem was Paul Dano and his name will come back into conversation around award season.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

pitchperfect2posterHaving had three straight years of success, the Barden Bellas are given the opportunity to sing in front of the President of the United States. When things do not go as planned, it gets very bad very quickly. Though Beca is secretly pursuing a music production career through a recording studio internship, the Bellas are stripped of their tour and denied the ability to continue competing at the college level. In order to get back into good graces with the a cappella community, the Bellas go on a mission to compete in the world competition. The task will not be easy, with the German group Das Sound Machine looking nearly flawless in their efforts to erase the Bellas from existence. As the pressure rises, the girls begin to realize how difficult their climb will be.

Review: Riding the success of the cultural impact of the first film, Pitch Perfect 2 did little to revolutionize their formula but rather tried to stick with what they know: somewhat weird and offensive humor and excellent musical mashups. Anna Kendrick (Beca) reprised her role as the inspiration of the women’s group. She projected a bit more confidence and ambition this time around, but her role in the comedy was a bit more subdued for her newer focus as more of a source of conflict for the girls. Rebel Wilson (Fat Amy) continued to command a lot of attention opposite Adam DeVine (Bumper). While their odd sense of a relationship seemed to be a focal point for the film, it did little to truly add to the comedic opportunity with its overly stale and played out humor. Many of the other stars of the first film, including Brittany Snow (Chloe), Skylar Astin (Jesse), Anna Camp (Aubrey), and Hana Mae Lee (Lilly), were reduced to background characters in lieu of the newcomers Chrissie Fit (Flo) and Hailee Steinfeld (Emily). While Chrissie added a Latina element to the somewhat stereotypical, racist humor, Hailee served as more of a source of newness and inspiration for the story to develop a new sound for a cappella.

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Taking a moment to go focus on the comedy…a sequel may not be required to improve upon the formula, but it should find a way to build upon its past success. The dynamic of John and Gail was both a bit excessive and pointed in its recognition of both racial and gender-based comedy. The international theme, with both the world competition and inclusion of Flo, allowed for a new combination of racist jokes on top of the sexist ones. Much of it felt like it was trying too hard to be offensive, even though some of the pointing out of stereotypes was actually funny. As for Fat Amy and Bumper, the story was definitely stale. As I said before, they explored the relationship in the first film and took a natural progression in this one. There was opportunity to actually focus even a bit more on the music, which did tend to be a strongpoint for the film.

As with the first film, the music and its transformation into a cappella was fascinating. Although the German team’s version of some of the songs felt overly stiff, the overall selection of music was fun and engaging. As with the riff-off in the first film, a musical competition popped in to allow for a great combination of songs to be transformed in a short period of time. In addition, there was the return of the Tone Hangers (and actually performing good music) as well as the Green Bay Packers, led by Clay Matthews. As the group struggled to find their identity, the film took a step away from the good projection of music. Moving into the finale, there was a great surprise in the final performance and the overall presentation can take your breath away.

While skeptical about the continuation of the same comedic formula and even with the imperfections of the storytelling, this film had a lot of great elements that made the first film a success and added a few really interesting elements to keep the music alive.

Dan’s Rating: 3.0/5

begin_againAfter both suffering major personal defeats on the same day, destiny finds Gretta and Dan in the same bar that night. While Dan is getting drunk in his sorrows, Gretta is forced to perform on-stage by her friend, Steve. Feeling like he just woke up for the first time in years, Dan approaches Gretta after her performance to convince her that she should get representation and become a star. While she is hesitant at first, Dan’s openness and honesty seems to wear her down. She agrees to jump on convincing his former record label to listen to her sound, but they refuse to put the resources behind her to get a fully produced sound without a full demo. Gretta and Dan decide to take a risk and produce a full album themselves, using the cityscape of New York as their studio and revive both of their careers and lives.

Review: This story told through its music was one that was easy to fall in love with surprising performances from Mark Ruffalo (Dan), Keira Knightley (Gretta), and Adam Levine (Dave). While Levine was the known musical talent entering into the film, Knightley proved that she has some real talent behind her voice as well. The dynamic between these three characters expressed the gamut of emotions of relationships and independence, as each character grapples with their own strength (or lack thereof). Even though they were limited, Haliee Seinfeld (Violet) and James Corden (Steve) had brief moments to shine.

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For Dan, his problems seemed to stem from being cheated upon and then losing his motivation and love of music. Having the chance encounter with Gretta knocked some sense back into him and made him see beyond the commercialized music he had grown to hate. Gretta entered their partnership from another, yet similar angle. She was cheated upon by Dave, but she never imagined that she would be headlining a music project. As their album came together, sparks burst for both of them, remembering why they loved music and what they wanted out of their lives. Even though Dave made a play to get Gretta back, she was sure of who she was and what she wanted for her career.

The scene at the very end of the film was a nice extra touch, as it provided a small sample of where the story progressed from that point. Solid individual performances and music that was easy to fall in love with make this a very enjoyable experience.

Dan’s Rating: 4.0/5

whiplash_ver4Story: As a new student at the Shaffer Conservatory of Music, Andrew Neimann is discovered one evening by the guru of music at the school while practicing in private. Andrew attempts to impress Terence Fletcher but ultimately leaves uneasy about the interaction. The next day, Andrew gets his chance to make another impression during class when Fletcher walks in and starts auditioning each band member individually. Fletcher invites Andrew to Studio Band, giving Andrew the sense that all was right with the world. Very quickly after his induction, the “squeaker” quickly learns how intensely Fletcher conducts his band and how accurate he will be expected to perform.

Acting: While Miles Teller (Andrew Neimann) is technically the main character, J.K. Simmons (Terence Fletcher) truly stole the film. His intensity was palpable, as his character’s massive outbursts and mood swings easily left movie-goers on the edge of their seat asking the question, “is he about to explode?” and “is this purposeful or simply a scare tactic?” He has some moments of calm reflection and broader character development, but his intensity was truly the star of the story. Teller, on the other hand, was the pleasant surprise. He created a sense of care for his character’s outcome and the emotional commitment put into his musical craft. While supporting actors Paul Reiser (Jim Neimann) and Melissa Benoist (Nicole) help to fill out the secondary storylines, the chemistry of Teller and Simmons is the real focus.

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Review: The storyline is a little simpler than some of the other films of the past year, but the ability to build a love of jazz and the intensity of the acting helped this film soar above many of its competitors. Regarding the story itself, Fletcher’s meticulous process was mesmerizing. Even disregarding the relationship directly with Andrew, the scene that officially highlighted the intrigue occurred early in the film, with Fletcher accusing one of the musicians of being out of tune and then harassing the student to the point of tears before kicking him out of the band. With Andrew, their relationships remains unclear through much of the film. Living on a motto of pushing for excellence, there are moments that Fletcher takes a timeout from his hard exterior to provide a bit of guidance, but the majority of their interactions push Andrew to the limit of breaking down and bleeding for that excellence.

With the intensity of the acting performances, the music also follows suit. While the film’s band focuses on just a few big pieces of jazz music, they are phenomenal. Whiplash kicks off the intensity of Fletcher’s class with a bang, both putting Andrew into a challenging battle with the other drummer and with Terence as well as introducing the excitement of the music ahead. Caravan kicked up the intensity with its double-time tempo. Andrew and the other drummers struggled to meet Fletcher’s high demands, but the end result is nothing but unforgettable.

Music lovers will absolutely love this film’s score and its intensity. In general, movie-goers will be on the edge of their seats while watching Andrew’s turbulent experience and Fletcher’s overwhelming passion for perfection.

Dan’s Rating: 4.5/5

get_on_up_xlgAs a young boy living on the streets of Augusta, Georgia, James Brown struggles with the abandonment of his father to the war and his mother due to her fractured relationship with his father. During his teenage years, he gets himself into trouble with the law but is bailed out due to a chance meeting with an up-and-coming talent, Bobby Byrd. With a fresh, new home and new lease on life, he convinces Bobby and his friends to take a chance and sing after a Little Richard performance. As the group gets discovered and rises into mountains of success, King Records decides that they see the potential in James Brown’s sound but show no commitment to the rest of the group. Only Bobby stays with James following this confrontation, but the star continues to rise and James continues to make hit after hit. With success comes ego and pride, leaving James to determine what is most vital in his life.

Starring: Chadwick Boseman (James Brown), Nelsan Ellis (Bobby Byrd), Dan Aykroyd (Ben Bart), Viola Davis (Susie Brown), Lennie James (Joe Brown), Fred Melamed (Syd Nathan), Craig Robinson (Maceo Parker), Jill Scott (Dee Dee Brown), Octavia Spencer (Aunt Honey), Josh Hopkins (Ralph Bass), Brandon Smith (Little Richard)

Capturing the personality of the Godfather of Funk, Chadwick Boseman seemed to honor the late musical genius with his performance. While his voice and his moves were a treat for the ears and eyes, the sound mixing made it difficult to discern a lot of his dialogue. The emotion was clear, but the wordage was not. Ellis was a strong supporting character with his clear devotion and mirroring of the mood presented by Boseman. The rest of the cast also provided strong performances, particularly Aykroyd, Davis, James, Robinson, and Spencer.

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Having proven success with The Help, Tate Taylor mixed a nonlinear storyline with fourth-wall breaks and dynamic musical performances to encapsulate the viewer. James Brown clearly led a very challenging life. At a young age, his mother and father abandoned him, also leaving him with relatively poor representations of how to treat other people. He was fortunate to have an aunt who cared enough to take care of him, but even her support and his involvement in church did not keep him from attempting to steal a suit and landing in jail. The incident may have been a blessing because it connected him to Bobby Byrd. As Byrd later revealed, he knew at one point that James was a frontman and accepted that his fame would never reach his level. Throughout much of the rest of the film, the story of James’s life was painted to be a tapestry of pain, pride, and meteoric fame, only to crash after losing the last person willing to put up with his ego.

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The film had many great elements, but it did come off as uneven at times. This was, in large part, due to the jumpy storytelling and sometimes odd transitions. There were some times where either the young or famous version of James would break the fourth-wall with a smile or nod to the camera in a scene that hardly matched the moment of levity. Otherwise, it was impressive to see someone take on the singing and dancing to match what James Brown accomplished and produced throughout his career. Boseman had a dancing background and was more than successful at adapting James’s presence in the big screen. In many ways, this was a film that helps the viewer fall in love with James Brown’s music and dancing abilities all over again.

While 42 was a breakout hit for Chadwick Boseman, Get On Up was a more masterful representation of his acting talents and his portrayal of a famous, historical figure.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5

inside_llewyn_davis_ver2Having fallen on rough times, Llewyn Davis is just looking for a break in the world of folk music. Playing at a small club in New York City, he is making little headway into being discovered. After a failed meeting with his agent, Llewyn struggles to deal with the news that he has possibly gotten a friend pregnant and takes a singing gig to earn the money to help pay for the abortion. Since his agent had yet to help him connect with a music promoter in Chicago, Llewyn decides to take an offer for a ride to meet with the promoter in person. The trip brings its own challenges but he eventually makes it to meet with Bug Grossman and plays one of his songs to hopefully get recognized for his talent.

Starring: Oscar Isaac (Llewyn Davis), Carey Mulligan (Jean Berkey), John Goodman (Roland Turner), Garrett Hedlund (Johnny Five), Justin Timberlake (Jim Berkey), F. Murray Abraham (Bud Grossman), Stark Sands (Troy Nelson), Jeanine Serralles (Joy), Adam Driver (Al Cody), Ethan Phillips (Mitch Gorfein), Alex Karpovsky (Marty Green), Max Casella (Pappi Corsicato), Benjamin Pike (young Bob Dylan)

Oscar Isaac’s performance of a hapless folk singer was compelling and challenging. He created a feeling in the audience that draws forth an interest in seeing him try to succeed but learn something from his approach and chance challenges leading to continued failures. Mulligan’s aggressive personality was a little out of her traditional character but matches well with the relationship she carried with Isaac’s role. Timberlake and Goodman play opposite characters, with one being more of an optimist and full of kindness while the other spews hate and trouble.

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The Cohen Brothers’ tale of a lowly folk singer grasped at the challenges of loving your craft but failing to find success in a harsh world. Llewyn was a couch-surfer with barely a penny to his name. His music was not selling and good-paying gigs were hard to come by. He believed in his music and went to great lengths to respect it and attempt to achieve, including his travels to Chicago without resources or a clear plan to make things happen. The problem with his lack of success was that he had the loss of his former partner haunting him. A song that had a chance of being a real hit was tainted because Mike was no longer around to share in the opportunity for success.

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The film represented the trials that many musicians face while trying to be discovered and share their craft. He had no home and no money to support his efforts, which led him to developing relationships with friends to crash on their couches. With little money, he had fewer options to save his earnings and make financial decisions to support his future. When he recorded the session with Jim Berkey, he turned down the opportunity for royalties in order to get an immediate payout for the performance. This leads to frustration later when he learns that the song they recorded had a chance to becoming a big hit, leaving him out of the opportunity to earn additional profit. Feeling like a failure, he gave the best performance of his life but walked away to rejoin his former job as a maritime marine.

This film has an enchanting soundtrack and includes some intriguing interactions between Davis and his peers, but this is also not a film with a clear ending or redeeming takeaway. It simply serves as a week in the life of a struggling musician.

Dan’s Rating: 3.5/5